Biz / Tech

Hey, look at me! Live streaming takes on commercial aspects

Live-streaming sites are seeking unique positioning as consumers' tastes are diversifying and competition intensifies. 
Hey, look at me! Live streaming  takes on commercial aspects

For Beijing native Qu Baojian, live streaming online became an adjunct to his hobby of breeding plants.

After retiring two years ago, Qu took up growing and selling succulents on the Taobao e-commerce platform. Then he began live-streaming on Taobao for an hour every day to show others how to cultivate the plants.

His little business currently covers more than 1,000 types of plants, all grown in three greenhouses in suburban Beijing. “Online streaming lets viewers get a better idea of how to breed these plants,” he explained.

His online shop has attracted nearly 2,000 repeat buyers and 27,000 subscribers. About 70 percent of them are women who want to bring some greenery into their homes or offices.

“Although some of trading rules on Taobao are complicated, I enjoy the learning process and sharing my experience with others,” he said.

With the prevalence of smartphones and fast-speed wireless network connections, ordinary people are increasingly sharing their daily life with others, demonstrating modest skills like cooking or makeup application.

At its peak, China had some 1,000-plus live-streaming sites, but many gradually folded as interest waned. Those still remaining are seeking unique positioning.

NASDAQ-listed YY Inc allows amateur streamers to show off their talent to viewers interested in such areas as gaming, outdoor sports or anime.

YY takes a cut of “tips” that live-streamers receive from viewers. Live streaming encompasses all sorts of activities, including singing, talk shows and dancing.

YY operates a talent agency department to help wannabe talent develop and even books performances for some of them on domestic TV channel variety shows and entertainment programs.

By the end of the third quarter last year, YY’s paying users had grown about a quarter, with an active monthly base of 88 million people.

The company is also staging a series of offline shows to enhance its brand and try to capture new viewers who haven’t picked up yet on the live-streaming trend.

“We want to build a full-cycle service, including training and music production to help talented users who might become new online superstars,” said chief operating officer Li Ting.

A Mintel study shows that nine of 10 urban dwellers watch live streaming. Those not in tune with the trend said they didn’t have time or found streaming offerings too limited.

Private market research firm ASKCI Consulting said it expects the live-streaming market will be worth 86.6 billion yuan (US$12.7 billion) by 2020, with 540 million users.

Hey, look at me! Live streaming  takes on commercial aspects

The majority of the market still comprises talent shows or ordinary people showing off daily routines.

Although the majority of viewers are not inclined to purchase merchandise at live-streaming sites, these platforms have emerged as an important channel not only for distributing product information but also showing how specific products work.

Claire Zhang, who is in her early 30s, said she buys clothing on Taobao periodically and sometimes watches live streaming of models presenting fashion apparel.

“Watching live videos gives me a better picture of how a particular piece of clothing would look on different body shapes,” she said.

“Live-streaming platforms need to develop more diversified content to attract viewers, and showing how products look or function could become a crucial element in getting people to order things on live streaming,” said Alina Ma, director of research at Mintel.

Taobao President Jiang Fan said the platform aims to bring in 500 billion yuan of transactions through live-streamers in the next three years, nearly five times the current volume.

Taobao’s live-streaming section, which started trial operation nearly three years ago, connects consumers and vendors, offering virtual content that helps people make purchasing decisions.

Other independent e-commerce platforms are adding live streaming to boost sales.

Mogu Street, the Hangzhou-based fashion retailer that listed on the New York Stock Exchange in early December, has added a live-streaming function for fashion bloggers to show followers the latest apparel trends and give tips on matching accessories. It currently hosts more than 120,000 fashion bloggers.

Gross merchandising from live-streaming viewers nearly doubled in the past year, accounting for nearly 12 percent of total transactions. 

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