Thu, Apr 13, 2017 - Page 11 News List

Would-be Internet stars fuel industry worth billions

Reuters, BEIJING

Jing Qi, a part-time presenter on Chinese live-streaming platform Huajiao (花椒直播), last month underwent cosmetic surgery to improve her chances of becoming an Internet celebrity.

After five hours of rhinoplasty and facial fat injections that left her with gauze covering her nose, eyes, forehead and cheeks, the 27-year-old said she felt “even worse than dead.”

However, the suffering was worth it.

Jing is among tens of thousands hoping to find online stardom as an anchor on the live video-streaming phenomenon sweeping China’s media.

The fastest-emerging Internet sector barely existed in China three years ago, but last year produced more than 30 billion yuan (US$4.35 billion) in revenue and, according to an estimate by China Renaissance Securities (華興資本), is set to more than triple that by 2020.

That puts it on track to overtake movie theater box office receipts in a few years.

“I want more people to watch me, to spend Huajiao coins on me,” Jing said, referring to the virtual gifts her online followers buy that she can later redeem, in part for cash.

“In the end, I’ll be able to marry a tall, handsome and rich man,” she added.

The rapid growth of live streaming in China has attracted a rush of investment, led by China’s tech heavyweights, Tencent Holdings Ltd (騰訊), Alibaba Group Holding Ltd (阿里巴巴) and Baidu Inc (百度). They hope live streaming can boost existing services in e-commerce, social networking and gaming.

Tencent, the country’s biggest online gaming and social networking company, is backing a slew of streaming and interactive entertainment firms, including gaming platform Douyu (鬥魚網).

Alibaba’s Taobao (淘寶) marketplace early last year launched a live-streaming platform, allowing sellers to promote products directly to online viewers in real time.

The lure is about 344 million Chinese netizens — more than the population of every country other than China and India — who were watching live-streaming sites in December last year, and that was only about 47 percent of all Chinese Internet users.

There are about 150 live-streaming platforms, most producing entertainment shows.

The importance of live streaming in lower-tier cities is greater than elsewhere in China. Access to the Internet via a mobile phone is the major, if not the only, gateway to shopping and entertainment, Jefferies Hong Kong equities analyst Karen Chan said.

Live streaming has also bolstered the growth of ancillary businesses, including agencies looking to find the next live-streaming star, consumer loans and even cosmetic surgery.

Deng Jian, chairman of Three Minute TV, an agency that provides 1,000 trained anchors to more than three dozen platforms, said his business operates a “militarized” production machine to feed the live-streaming industry.

At an office building in a suburb of Beijing, dozens of Deng’s female anchors work around the clock each day in three shifts. Each anchor sits in a small booth, decorated to appear like a girl’s bedroom, facing a computer.

They sing and flirt with fans, encouraging them to buy virtual gifts, like a rose, sports car or villa. The cash for the gifts is split by the platforms, agencies and the anchor.

Three Minute TV also arranges cosmetic surgery at partner hospitals for its anchors, arranges small bank loans for the surgery, photographs and markets the anchors and helps them find acting opportunities, Deng said.

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