Live webcasts a rising trend in China

Live webcasts have become a craze in China with popular presenters like “papi jam” (papi酱) rising to stardom. The booming sector is witnessing the involvement of entertainment celebrities, investment from magnates and nationwide engagements.

Four factors are behind the huge success of the emerging business in China. First, people, original stories or other work that might draw fans are rising to instant popularity through the Internet or mobile Internet instead of traditional film and TV; secondly, 4G network is being widely used; third, intelligent mobile phones and TVs are becoming popular; and finally, with more and more professionals and entertainment celebrities joining the arena, it is gaining traction among a larger audience.

It is anticipated that the market would further expand. Based on statistics, the size of the market amounted to RMB12 billion ($1.8 billion) in 2015, and is estimated to reach RMB106 billion (or $16.1 billion) in 2020, with some players with over RMB 100 billion in market capitalization coming to the scene. Five types of businesses are currently active in the market.

The Pioneers

Before the rise of mobile live shows in China, successful players like YY, 9158,, and had gained large amounts of subscribers through live webcasts on the PC terminal. But their growth is overshadowed by the success from mobile terminals, and to confront the threat, the traditional platforms are now venturing into the mobile area.

The YY team have used their online stars (网红) to generate busy traffic of mainly male users. As pioneers, their success derived from branding and popularity on the PC terminal could not be easily challenged.

They have accumulated enough content, operational experience and technology to address challenges from mobile platforms like and, and have transferred their established advantages to the mobile terminal.

Meanwhile, the current market dictates that the YY team would have to face stronger competitors, which is creating uncertainty for the successful players that used to dominate the market.

And, it would not be easy for players like YY to transfer their users from the PC to mobile terminals—many presenters may not be able to adapt to the new live-show way and their fans may also feel strange.

New Entrants

Mobile webcasting companies like and have taken advantage of a favorable trend to become dark horses in the market. In less than a year, users for exceeded 10 million and then, in half a year, it gained three financing opportunities. Apparently, the new entrants have risen abruptly to encroach on profits of other types of live webcasts.

Then, what are the reasons behind such an instant success?

First, the team created the concept of “everyone could be a presenter” to invite people from all walks of life to engage in its mobile webcasting initiative. The successful outreach constitutes one reason for its popularity.

Second, current mobile webcasting equipment has provided better user experiences thanks to designs boasting simplicity. Users just need to run an app on their cell phones to do a live show.

In contrast, the PC webcasting requires presenters to have a desktop or laptop with camera and sometimes presenters even need to wear headsets, while mobile webcasting just needs a smooth network.

Despite the rapid growth, the team still lacks operational experience and content for webcasting, and is therefore worried about a loss of momentum in the long run. Besides, before the new entrants fully build up themselves, their well-established competitors already begin to wage wars.

YY has launched “Me”, an app aimed at trendy chic users, and KK, another successful live webcasting company hatching out its own mobile product. With rising competition, the current growing companies like and may face uncertainties.  

Sina Weibo joining the fray

The US market has witnessed social media magnates like Facebook and Twitter spend heavily on the mobile webcasting. Their Chinese counterparts Weibo and Momo are following suit to brave into the arena. Momo launched its “momo live” while Weibo subcontracted its live show function to an Internet company—

First, Weibo and Momo, as well-established social media platforms and own considerable amount of users - 0.5 billion and 0.2 billion, respectively., a short film sharing platform of shot to success thanks to a large amount of Weibo users, and the Internet company’s also intends to use the advantage, considering the social media platforms really could help live webcasting spread to more people.

Second,, the parent company of, is valued at over $2.5 billion while Weibo, owned by Sina, is valued at around $5 billion. And the market capitalization for Momo has also exceeded $3 billion. The strength of money would back up the social media companies to join in the mobile webcasting war.

Finally, Weibo and Momo may also win in the technology side considering is capable of effectively compressing live videos, guaranteeing high-resolution pictures and saving traffic for presenters and audiences.

Despite all the merits, the team still suffers from some congenital deficiencies. For example, the social media platforms don't have as many online celebrities and interesting content to draw users. For some small and medium-sized companies, even if the platform could be built, it may still fail because there isn’t good enough content.

Strong Competitors

KKTV, established in 2012 and constituted by three specific live show platforms, is now fully pushing forward its mobile business., developed by, one of China’s top Internet companies, is following in KK’s steps.

Compared with mobile players like and, the KKTV team has accumulated more content. The three platforms of KKTV have long gained foothold in areas like entertainment, film and television, sports and games. With more players joining the competition, valuable content would definitely be key to competitiveness.

Meanwhile, mobile shows usually require more advanced technologies. The KKTV team in fact has gathered some core technologies and operational experience that could make it ahead of the new entrants like and

Although the KKTV team has not signed as many users as the YY team pioneers have, they definitely have got more subscribers on mobile terminals. And, compared with new players like, the strong competitors have more users.

Also, the KKTV team faces challenges from the new mobile platforms and the well-established pioneers who have more users.

Gaming’ players

Online platforms for live videos of people playing games have been very popular, and have prompted the success of companies like Douyu TV, Panda TV, and These days, the platforms which used to specialize in game-related content are gradually extending to broader areas including sports, variety shows and entertainment.

Besides, Douyu and have both received huge investments from Tencent, one of the largest Internet companies in the world, while the strength of Panda TV, a live-game show company known for its founder Wang Sicong, son of China’s richest man Wang Jianlin, cannot be ignored. The “gaming” players have acquired solid capital base. 

Mobile webcasting for online games would become the next big growth area in the industry, although at the current stage, no one single company has been successful enough in the field. Even if it is not very difficult for the players to transfer to mobile terminals, they do face two major problems.

One problem comes from the technology side. Mobile live show for games requires presenters to simultaneously play mobile games while live webcasting the game videos. Meanwhile, the presenters are also supposed to interact with the audiences. To realize all of the above, high-tech edge is necessary. 

The other problem relates to contents. Cyber games (also called electronic sports) have over the years thrived on personal computers with many games becoming classics, while for the mobile games market, the genre is actually not that popular. At the current stage, the most popular live shows in the area are the ones for electronic sports. So, it seems live games for mobile devices really need to improve on the content part.

Two big opportunities

In the future, two areas are likely to offer great market opportunities. One is integration of mobile webcasting with VR (virtual reality) technology, which would bring users a sense of immediacy and make live shows more authentic. And, the new technology could also promote interaction between presenters and audiences to boost activities on the webcasting platforms. No matter which live show company would first gain breakthrough in the field, it will soon rise to prominence in the market.

VR live also requires presenters to spend more on special VR shooting equipment, and their fans are required to buy special equipment to watch shows. Considering that, it is hard for VR live to gain popularity any time soon.

The other area for growth is webcasting by professionals. Now, most webcasts are just live shows or online videos of presenters playing games. As more and more people are diverting their attention to the field, diversified content may be required to gain user loyalties.

We take education as an example. With the development of online education, live programs would definitely become the new direction. Many platforms have already launched educational live programs, in an effort to make traditional educational videos more effective through more interactions.

Three major challenges

Despite a rosy future, the booming market is overshadowed by some doldrums.  

The first setback was brought to the market by Chinese regulators. Douyu TV, YY, Panda TV,, and several other platforms were dealt with by the Ministry of Culture for malpractices that jeopardize social morals. This is a minefield for the industry and regulatory action can cause an upheaval anytime.

In this case, these players must boost supervision on webcasting content. However, it would not be an easy job, because increased supervision demands serious punishment for the presenters who violate rules. Although punishments could play a role, for completely eradicating illegal behavior and malpractices, huge amounts of money and manpower need to be devoted to oversee every live show or program.

The second challenge comes from content. Online live shows has long been criticized by some to be useless with look-alike beautiful female presenters. So, with such unhelpful presenters, the audience would naturally feel bored quickly.

There is a paradox. Those pretty and popular presenters mostly fail to deliver enlightening and professional information in specific areas, while those who could do that are usually not very popular because they may lack good looks or good voice.

The third challenge relates to money, given that the mobile webcasting industry really burns money. Based on media reports, a medium-sized live show company would spend nearly RMB 3 million (or $457, 000) on video storage and bandwidth every month. Except for operational expenses, hiring presenters or online celebrities would also cost millions of yuan. So, without solid financial background, it would be difficult to run the platforms.

So, for those platforms that fail to draw enough investment, they may not be able to pull through the first round of competition.

Overall, mobile live has become an irresistible trend. Although the platforms may face challenges from regulators, or difficulties because of content or lack of investment, they are destined to embrace a bright future. The industry would create successful ventures with hundreds of billions of market capitalization. But among the five teams led by YY,, KK, Douyu and Momo, it is still too early to decide which could finally prevail in the market.

(The author Liu Kuang is the chief executive of Hainan Sanche Network Technology Co., Ltd. WeChat official account: liukuang 110. The article is translated and edited by Rebecca Lin.)

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