China’s live streaming sector is booming. In fact, live streaming is one of the hottest digital trends in the Middle Kingdom with more than 600 million viewers in 2020. That’s 60% of China’s 990 million internet users with a strongly rising trend. This together with its interactive elements makes live streaming a powerful marketing tool at a comparatively low cost.
China Gravy presents the most popular live streaming platforms in China in detail and how to lift the potential of this trending sector for your brand with influencer marketing and smart strategies.
What is Live Streaming?
First surfacing in 2016, live streaming refers to recording and broadcasting digital media at the same time and in real-time. Thus it is different from watching pre-recorded short videos online, for example on YouTube or Youku, which is also referred to as “streaming”.
With its origin in the video game industry, streaming in China recently gained popularity in the digital entertainment and the online shopping world, in particular. In fact, the gross merchandise value (GMV) of live streaming e commerce in China is constantly growing and is estimated to surpass 2.8 trillion RMB (~438 billion USD) in 2022. The ongoing Coronavirus-pandemic is only intensifying this trend.
Outside of China, Amazon has also launched its live streaming and selling platform; Facebook and Instagram also offer this feature.
How Live Streaming Works
General popular topics are fashion, cosmetics, and accessories, entertaining performances like singing and dancing, as well as “challenges”. Everyone can be a live streamer – from farmers in rural areas to the girl or boy next door and high-profile online influencers.
They perform, test products, share their experiences, do demonstrations and tutorials, as well as engage with their followers in live Q&A sessions through the chat function. The viewers can then purchase the presented item right away, typically from an embedded link.
As the followers are already engaged with their favorite brands, topics, and online personalities, they are “ready to buy” and don’t need to be guided through extensive sales funnels. This makes live streaming such a high-potential commerce segment.
To make the concept of live streaming more tangible, let’s look at an example of Yizhibo 一直播. More about this popular Chinese live streaming platform in the section below.
For viewers to interact with the live stream, they need to be logged in to the respective platform.
In the screenshot, you can see general information about the live streamer and other trending topics on the left-hand side.
In the middle is the live streaming video. Below it, viewers can like and comment on the video to which the live streamer can respond directly.
On the right-hand side, you can see other users also watching the live stream and available virtual gifts.
How Live Streaming Differs from Other Online Channels
Millions of Chinese online shoppers are mesmerized by live video shopping.
What sets shopping on live streaming channels apart from other online shopping avenues are
- opportunities to get special and exclusive deals, for example, coupons, free gifts, and exclusive products: online shoppers can get enthusiastic about hunting special products and limited deals
- the interaction between presenters and followers: specific questions and concerns about a product can be addressed right away; it is almost like talking to a friend
- a seamless combination of UGC with PGC: user generated content is blended with professionally generated content
- its highly interactive, social, and playful character: a direct presentation of real products also contributes to higher trustworthiness compared to bland photos in an online shop
Next, let’s look at China’s live streaming apps that are trending right now and will likely gain further popularity in the coming months.
Popular Chinese Live Streaming Apps
When looking at platforms that offer live streaming, there are three basic distinctions:
- Dedicated live streaming platforms
- E commerce focused platforms
- Other platforms with a live streaming segment
Let’s take a closer look at these segments and their respective platforms.
1. Dedicated Live Streaming Platforms
These specific live streaming platforms often focus on entertainment and live online gaming. According to monthly active users (MAU), the leading dedicated streaming platforms are as follows:
Gaming live streaming platforms:
Entertainment live streaming platforms:
- YY Live: 25 million MAU
- Inke: 10 million MAU
- Huajiao Live: 10 million MAU
- Yizhibo (Weibo; Alibaba-backed): 9 million MAU
- KK Live: 5 million MAU
The numbers speak for themselves.
Based on the huge success of video gaming live streaming apps, the leading e commerce platforms in China discovered live streaming for their audience and are implementing this segment for their users with great success.
2. E Commerce Focused Platforms
The social commerce aspect – combining promotional content with live streaming – makes this sector booming and attractive for e commerce ventures. The mix between e commerce and entertainment – entertainmerce – is increasingly captivating Chinese and international netizens.
The main e commerce platforms that have a successful live streaming segment are – according to their 2020 sales data from live streaming – are
- Douyin (ByteDance): ~78 billion USD
- Taobao Live (Alibaba): ~63 billion USD
- Kuaishou (Tencent-backed): ~47 billion USD
Whereas Douyin is predominantly famous for its short videos, the platform has implemented clever e commerce tactics like Douyin coins and shops, making it the most attractive e commerce streaming platform these days. KOL influencer marketing is also booming on Douyin.
In terms of online users, Douyin attracts a younger audience while Kuaishou attracts an older audience. Taobao Live has the largest female audience, and Kuaishou has the largest male audience.
Other key e commerce platforms that have a successful live streaming offers are
In the future, it can be expected that hybrid platforms that seamlessly integrate live streaming with shopping and other practically everyday functions will have greater success than stand-alone platforms that focus only on live streaming.
The trend of live streaming will continue in the future but at a slower growth rate. Therefore, integrating other functionalities in their platforms will be crucial to the streaming apps’ success in the future.
Finally, let’s take a look at other video platforms that have also successfully integrated live streaming into their platforms.
3. Other Platforms with a Live Streaming Segment
Other apps, often video and short video platforms, like BiliBili and Baidu’s Haokan, also have a popular live streaming segment.
As you can see, the Chinese BAT tech giants and ByteDance are strongly battling for the attention and spendings of Chinese consumers on the most popular apps in the China live streaming sector.
The Chinese Streaming Platforms in Detail
Now, let’s look at which niches, audiences, topics and products can be found on these popular live streaming platforms in China.
Haokan was established recently in 2017. It literally translates to “intriguing” and captivates users with 3-5 minute long videos uploaded by its followers. The horizontal format is geared towards laptops and tablets.
It is one of few Chinese apps that is also available in the international Google Playstore.
Baidu is in the talks of acquiring YY Live, but this process is under review by Chinese officials.
Launched in 2016, Yizhibo is a relatively new broad entertainment live streaming app, where users sing, dance, and talk about their daily lives. Popular among young adults, trendy fashion and cosmetics as well as foods and products that promote a healthy lifestyle are trending.
With Weibo being the owner, Weibo and Yizhibo accounts are automatically integrated, allowing cross-usage and promotion. As it is basically “mandatory” for Chinese celebrities to have a Weibo account, Yizhibo is a great place for those influencers to host live streams and for brands to run campaigns.
Launched in 2016, Taobao Live is an established online commerce platform. Recently, Taobao Live has even created a new style of live streaming, called cunbo (村播), which refers to rural sellers and responds to the China marketing trend of Xiachen.
Interestingly, Alibaba’s Tmall Live redirects to Taobao Live, reaching millions of people every day.
Tencent’s most mainstream platform Kuaishou was launched in 2011. It is particularly popular among older users outside of China’s Tier 1 cities and outside of mainland China. Kuaishou’s focus is on Chinese rural life and perhaps non-conventional content, which makes it all the more popular.
Basically, an online granddaddy, JD.com (JingDong) was founded in 1998. But don’t let this fool you! JD is a massive mainstream B2C online retailer and Global Fortune 500 company. JD is battling for the attention of Chinese netizens with its direct Alibaba-competitor Tmall.
In terms of live streaming, JD also manages to keep up in the fast-paced online world. During the peak of the Covid-pandemic, JD launched an innovative live commerce campaign to bring live nightlife entertainment online to offset revenue from bars, clubs, and nightlife entertainment. JD continues to expand its live broadcasts with music performances, festivals, and more, making it a long-term program to uplift customers’ shopping experiences.
Known internationally as Nimo TV, Huya Live was launched in 2014. It is an official broadcaster of esports competitions. It is therefore popular among gamers – a younger male audience, who is also interested generally in lightweight entertainment content.
Likewise, DouYu Live is a popular platform for live videos of people playing games – similar to Twitch.
While it looked like DouYu and Huya might merge for a while, the Chinese government halted this process in mid-2021.
Started in 2016, Douyin is the Chinese version of TikTok and probably the most popular short video app these days. Douyin is by far the most popular short video app that has successfully integrated live streaming with a sales volume of approximately 78 billion USD in 2020 from live streaming.
A young audience comes together to entertain, sing, dance, do challenges, and share information – all related to trending topics.
Founded back in 2009, BiliBili started as a video service for anime fans. Today it is basically equivalent to YouTube. Based on BiliBili’s history, still today cosplay and anime-themed elements are very popular.
Xiaohongshu (Alibaba and Tencent-backed) was launched in 2013. It is driven by UGC and is highly popular among young women. As the platform is particularly tailored to e commerce, Xiaohongshu is a great marketplace for product promotion through live streaming.
Launched in 2015, Inke is popular among a younger audience in their 20ies. The app doesn’t particularly stand out in terms of layout and features, and offers virtual gifts, battles, and group streaming just like most of the other platforms. Inke also is popular among Daigou (Chinese individuals who import popular foreign products into China) to attract more potential clients, often for their sought-after cosmetics.
Huajiao Live was founded in 2014. It may look pretty standard in terms of format and features at first. However, it stands out with innovative shows and contests that reel in a large number of new viewers. Huajiao is also one of the first movers in terms of virtual reality content and has recently launched VR Zone, a 3D live streaming platform.
Huajiao Live’s core niche is beauty. However, it seems the platform’s user base is on the decline and moving over to the trendier Xiaohongshu and Kuaishou which offer more up-to-date content in their desired niches.
YY was launched back in 2008 as a gaming site and thus was one of China’s first live streaming platforms. This contributes to it being perceived as a “Western” social media platform, which isn’t necessarily a good thing in China. Nonetheless, YY has powered through over more than a decade in this fast-paced business.
Particularly popular for a while was YY’s live streaming karaoke function, which young women especially loved. Over time the platform diversified its content and professionalized its image. Today’s user demographic is generally male and a bit older, and located in Tier 3 and 4 cities.
KK Live is geared towards a young female audience, who love sharing their performances (mostly singing and dancing). It is also an interactive dating live broadcasting app.
While Zhihu, the Chinese quora, is not an exclusive live streaming platform, it is ideal for B2B marketing in the Middle Kingdom.
Give your Chinese website an SEO boost, raise your brand awareness on a platform with educated users, and conduct free market research and competitor analysis.
Next, let’s take a look at how to access these Chinese streaming services.
Downloading Live Streaming Apps
Most platforms are available both as apps and as a website while some only offer an app (Xiaohongshu, JD.com Live, Taobao Live).
To download the desired app from Apple’s iOS App Store China or Chinese Android App Stores, users need a Chinese mobile phone number and to create an account before being able to make a download. In case you don’t have a Chinese phone number, the China experts at China Gravy have a legal work-around for you to get one so you can download all the Chinese apps you desire. Contact us to find out more.
Alternatively, some apps like Taobao and Haokan are also available in the international Google Playstore, which is blocked in China. But you still might need a Chinese phone number to create an account.
Live Streaming Content Segments
The most popular live streamed content can be divided into the categories
- Shopping: Taobao, JD.com, Xiaohongshu, Douyin, Kuaishou
- Entertainment/Lifestyle: DouYu, Huya, Douyin, Bilibili
- Gaming: DouYu, Huya
- Education/Knowledge Sharing: Douyin, Bilibili, Kuaishou
Most online users are drawn to live streaming for online shopping/ecommerce (60.8%), followed by singing/gaming/entertainment (57%), public interest/philanthropy (29.2%), and other purposes like education (26.8%).
Next, let’s take a look at how often and, more importantly, why Chinese consumers make the decision to buy online, incentivized by live streaming.
Frequency and Motivation to Buy from Live Streaming
According to this 2021 survey by iiMedia Research, around half the viewers of live broadcasting apps bought occasionally from their favorite live streamers, while one-third made in-stream purchases often. Most interestingly, less than 5% of followers only watch live streams, but never make a purchase!
In terms of decisive reasons, why online viewers make in-stream purchases, special prices lead the ranking by far (79%), followed by a large selection of different items and trends (60%), convenience (59%), loyalty/being a fan of the live streamer (22%), and other reasons (2%).
Now, let’s bring everything together and take a look at the marketing opportunities for your brand on these trending live streaming platforms.
Marketing on China’s Live Streaming Apps
Certainly, live streaming lives from engaging personalities who present fun, valuable, and tailored content for their users. Therefore, working with influencers to promote products and services is the go-to marketing strategy to lift the potential of the commerce of live streaming.
A China marketing expert like China Gravy can connect you to KOL and KOC influencers that are ideal for your brand and niche.
Influencers add authenticity to your brand and serve as trustworthy ambassadors and shopping advisors to potential customers. Real-time product reviews and brand recommendations boost brand recognition and drive sales.
When presenting your brand through live streaming keep in mind to
- cross-promote your live stream on popular Chinese social media, e.g. in WeChat groups, as stories, or recordings
- Present the products dynamically and in a context that showcases to the shoppers’ aspired lifestyle
- consider Chinese culture and special holidays like Singles’ Day
- create special promotions, vouchers, giveaways, limited editions, and/or virtual gifts
- respect China’s internet regulations (no gambling, pyramid schemes, false advertising, etc.) and sensitive topics
- embed easy links to shopping interfaces in live streams so viewers can purchase hassle-free
- consider a moderator or co-host for a more professional appearance
Finally, let’s take a look at the most popular live streamers in China in 2021 and their ability to promote and sell merchandise.
Most Popular Influencer Live Streamers
Likewise, Douyin and Kuaishou lead the shopping/e commerce segment according to GMV through live streaming.
This brings us to the end of the overview of the live streaming landscape in China, the hottest apps, and marketing opportunities.
China’s Live Streaming Sector – The Takeaway
Live streaming may not have been around long, but it is taking the hearts of Chinese netizens by storm. In combination with a strong e commerce sector in China, live streaming becomes live commerce.
As such, live streaming holds high potential for brands aspiring to generate direct sales through embedded links. That’s because viewers are already in their desired niche and with their peers, ready to buy.
Fans of your brand can be reeled in cost-effectively with special and exclusive deals presented by your audience’s favorite influencers. The largest Chinese live streaming platforms are Taobao Live, Kuaishou, and Douyin.
Contact China Gravy for your FREE consultation to discuss marketing opportunities on the hottest China live streaming apps. Find out more about the latest efficient and cost-effective China marketing solutions.