Live streaming have become big business in China, with hundreds of new apps allowing connected consumers to interact, and through advanced payment systems, reward the online talent directly. Rebecca Yang’s IPCN is bringing its TV savvy to the emerging sector
The money that the stars of China’s live streaming scene can make prove it is already big business. Rebecca Yang, CEO of Anglo-Chinese content company IPCN, says the most popular girls – much of the content is young female bloggers – can earn US$13,000 a night.
A scene has sprung up around these young, attractive bloggers, collectively referred to as ‘Wang Hong’. They have a distinctive look, often attempting to look like characters from the world of Japanese animation. But the online revolution goes further than fashionable, big-eyed girls eliciting virtual gifts (represented in cute, graphical form) from consumers, with local and international FMCG brands increasingly getting involved.
IPCN is leading the charge for the professional producers in this space. Hitherto, the firm has been known for getting away a raft of Western formats in China, but it has now started looking at opportunities to capture live streaming eyeballs.
“Over the past twelve months or so, over 200 live streaming apps have popped up,” says Yang. “There are a lot of young people asking for virtual gifts and that provides escapism, but we thought there had to be more to live streaming than that, so we decided to be innovative and create something new.”
In the first instance that was Nice Intern, a constructed reality show set in IPCN’s Shanghai office. The set-up saw IPCN create a fictional live streaming division within the company and advertise for new interns each week. The new recruits enter the crazy world of this new start-up business, with fixed-rig cameras capturing and streaming the action for eight hours a day, five days a week, for a three-week period.
Sponsors included smart TV brand Whaley, fashion brand I.AM X, and food and skincare brands Marumata and OSM respectively.
Generating such a large number of live hours presents producers with a tough task, IPCN found, with a constant demand for new narrative and action, and an increasing number of storylines and people to follow.
“It’s challenging; you need to really plan it advance because there is no editing,” Yang says. “When it comes to live streaming you can really get found out if you get it wrong, and then people will say your show is fake.”
Nice Intern peaked with 1.7 million viewers and averaged between 300,000 and 700,000. The numbers, by Chinese standards, were modest, but good enough to convince IPCN to do more live streamed programming, this time with internet giant Youku Tudou co-funding.
The follow-up to Nice Intern is another reality show, White Collar Boxing. This time there is just 90 minutes of footage a day, and there is a presenter. The show follows a group of would-be fighters training and competing to take part in a live streamed white collar boxing match. Their coaches and viewers decide who progresses. As well as the live component, there is a series of constructed reality webisodes, in which the lives of the contestants are explored.
Yang admits that the live streaming push comes as regulation and wider market forces make the international formats business tough in China. A dispute surrounding the local version of The Voice, a show IPCN initially introduced to the country, hasn’t helped. Some informed observers say the effect has been to make the local market more insular, and likely to copy a Western format, a state of affairs from which the industry hoped it had moved on from.
Another issue is the lack of new breakout entertainment and talent formats that could be taken into China from international markets.
Will IPCN be able to use newfound live streaming expertise and formats outside of China? There are challenges, not least that not all countries have the advanced in-app payment systems required. “The technology is so advanced in China, and we wanted to see what was possible,” Yang says. “But Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has talked about the potential of live streaming, and the culture gap between millennials around the world is narrower than with previous generations.”