Beijing: China’s live-streaming sites have become a burgeoning cottage industry, offering money-making opportunities and even stardom to their mostly female hosts and an entertaining new alternative for millions of viewers to online dramas and stodgy state-controlled TV.
Zhang Qige, a 23-year-old woman who plays computer games and chats on her webcam, attracts hundreds of thousands of real-time viewers at once. She has more than 2 million subscribers on the website Douyu TV and an average viewership of 400,000 for each nightly show.
“They like me chatting with them,” explained Zhang, who says she earns more than 1 million yuan a year (USD 150,000) from her performances. “They feel like I’m talking to them face to face.”
The proliferation of such shows and sites demonstrate the entrepreneurial drive of young Chinese as well as the financial potential of social media in the country, which has 668 million people online the world’s largest. But their popularity also reflects the loneliness of Chinese urban life as well as the growing surplus of single men, blamed in part on the country’s former one-child policy.
Much of the content on various live streaming sites could be considered seedy, and some goes well beyond the borders of good taste. Many female broadcasters wear revealing costumes, and authorities recently cracked down after live pornographic scenes were broadcast on at least two sites. In one case, 34 people in the central province of Anhui were arrested for taking part.
The spread of such platforms has drawn close government scrutiny, with the Ministry of Culture saying today that Douyu and other sites have been added to a list of websites found broadcasting pornographic and other objectionable content and will be handed unspecified penalties.
The ministry said online live-streaming platforms draw around 200 million users, with major sites running several thousand live-streaming “studios” simultaneously.
These sites derive a small proportion of their revenue through advertising. They survive primarily through a practice invented by Chinese companies: virtual gifting.
Viewers can buy these imaginary gifts such as images of flowers or bottles of beer for their favorite performers, who receive a portion of the cash, with the site getting a hefty cut.
Viewers can also send comments that pop up onscreen, giving them the perception they are interacting with the host. (AP)