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China's Live Streaming Apps Surging in Popularity

  • Shannon Van Sant

FILE - In this photo taken Feb. 2, 2015, a woman browses her smartphone near other attendees at a press conference in Beijing. Chinese mobile video applications, such as Ingkee, are similar to Twitter’s Periscope and Facebook Live, and allow streamers to distribute live video and simultaneously interact with viewers.

FILE - In this photo taken Feb. 2, 2015, a woman browses her smartphone near other attendees at a press conference in Beijing. Chinese mobile video applications, such as Ingkee, are similar to Twitter’s Periscope and Facebook Live, and allow streamers to distribute live video and simultaneously interact with viewers.

Live streaming phone apps have surged in popularity in China, attracting investment and, at least for now, a huge fan base of users. Chinese mobile video applications, such as Ingkee, are similar to Twitter’s Periscope and Facebook Live, and allow streamers to distribute live video and simultaneously interact with viewers. Paul Haswell, a partner with the international law firm Pinsent Masons, said live streaming apps allow ordinary Chinese citizens to stream anything they want.

Haswell said, “They are successful for the same reasons they are successful in the West. They allow anyone to be a broadcaster of anything. You can use this app if you’re on holiday, broadcast what you’re up to. If you’re doing say a show, or DJ’ing a show. You’re becoming a live reporter anytime you want to.”

There are now more than 80 Chinese live streaming phone apps. Ingkee started just one year ago, and it has already reached number one on Apple’s China app store. The streaming apps have been used to market makeup and and skin care products, and Chinese film and television stars are increasingly live streaming to interact directly with their fans. Many streamers are also recording pornography, and attracting the attention of Chinese government censors.

Wang Chuan Zin of Beijing’s Analysis Group said, “Because there is so much original content in live applications, some content may be against the law.”

China’s Ministry of Culture and other regulators have cracked down on 50 users and websites distributing pornography through live apps, and companies like Douyu have hired hundreds of employees to screen content specifically for pornography.

Despite many users running afoul of Chinese government censors, the live streaming apps are drawing users and investment. Ingkee says 50 million people have already downloaded their app, while Douyu says more than 120 million people use their app, and 600,000 people have used it to stream video at least once.

The apps are also turning into a money maker for some users. Viewers can tip streamers with virtual presents, which the streamers can later trade in for cash.

Phil Lisio, head of The Foote Group, a Shanghai-based consultancy, said, “Video streams, direct video platforms, have seemed to come out of nowhere, very popular, overnight or however you want to put it. And it feels to a lot of people, like a fad, the flavor of the day, in the social media space. It also seems to be the hot area in terms of attracting investment.”

Many of China’s streaming apps have already raised millions of dollars in funding, and say they expect their volume of users to continue to grow.

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