by Xinhua writers Zhong Qun and Xiang Dingjie
GUIYANG, Dec. 16 (Xinhua) -- A child doing homework, a young man eating dinner and a female "anchorwoman" with a heaving embonpoint belting out pop songs. What do these three people have in common?
They are among the millions of Chinese live-streaming what, to some, appear to be menial, banal tasks, but for the hundreds of thousands of people who tune in everyday there is a certain charm that keeps them coming back for more.
Live streaming is big business in China. It generates huge profits for the host websites and catapults many "presenters" to over-night fame -- not without lining their pockets, too. The run-away success of streaming, however, has the authorities concerned, as the service is being misused to spread obscene and violent content.
According to China Internet Network Information Center, by the end of June 2016 there were 325 million live-streaming users in China -- about half of the whole online Chinese community.
This has pushed the development of live-streaming websites and applications. Figures released by Internet research agency iResearch show that every three days a live-streaming "platform" was established on average this year. There is plenty of opportunity to monetize the service, too, and more than 30 such websites and apps have secured financial backing exceeding 5 billion yuan (7.2 billion U.S. dollars).
In August, major live streaming website douyu.com announced that Internet powerhouse Tencent had bought a 20 percent stake in the streaming website for 226 million dollars.
Last year, Wang Sicong, son of Wanda Group chairman Wang Jianlin, also established his own live-streaming website called Panda TV.
While streaming websites are almost old hat to the public, the sites operate in a regulatory gray area, and information technology specialists agree that there is a pressing need to draw up a suitable supervisory framework for the sector.
For the time being, however, the authorities have warned websites, in no uncertain terms, that if they do not start to take responsibility for the content streamed on their sites they could be shut down or even prosecuted in severe cases.
Huang Xue, 24, is a self-styled anchorwoman on the live-streaming app Inke.
When most people are about to hit the hay in her hometown of Guiyang, capital of southwest China's Guizhou Province, her night is just beginning.
A relative newcomer to Inke, Huang signed up a little over two months ago, but she already has a lot of loyal followers.
"All I need is a cell phone, a set of headphones and a bit of makeup," Huang said.
Most of the time, Huang sings pop songs, and says "Hi!" to her fans. In return, her followers send virtual flowers, hearts and applaud her performance. The most coveted form of gratuity, however, is a digital red envelop, based on China's tradition of giving "hongbao" (red envelop) to friends and family as a gift. The digital money is deposited in Huang's e-wallet by her adoring viewers, often with messages thanking her for her "beautiful voice."
"It is a lovely feeling knowing that what I am doing is making people happy," she said. "The money is just a bonus, really, and I only make a few hundred yuan a month -- that is peanuts compared to what many of the top 'pro anchors' make."
Many of these pro anchors are women. They tend to work with high-end streaming equipment, their faces often plastered in makeup and their sartorial choices leave little to the imagination.
Online celebrities on live-streaming sites generated somewhere in the region of 58 billion yuan in 2016, more than the 44 billion yuan made at the box office last year, according to China Business Network.
This cash cow has not gone unnoticed by the country's more established celebrities, many of whom are keen to jump on the bandwagon. Movie stars like Wang Baoqiang and Fan Bingbing; pop singer JJ Lin; and breakout Olympic swimming medalist Fu Yuanhui have all streamed live shows.
There is literally nothing you cannot broadcast live. Singing is popular but there are also online lessons, urban management officers pounding the pavements and street vendors hawking food. The possibilities are endless.
According to iResearch, China has more than 200 live-streaming apps and websites, with an estimated market value of about 9 billion yuan. On major websites like inke.com and douyu.com, the anchors can earn huge sums of money from collecting red envelops, even though a percentage is shared with the host website.
Of all the live-streaming websites, inke.com is one of the most successful. It was valuated at 3 billion yuan within just six months of its debut in March 2015.
FALL FROM GRACE
The temptation of more money -- the ultimate payoff of a bigger fan base -- has proved too much for many online celebrities, and they have chosen to go the "extra mile."
In October, several "anchor men" on kuaishou.com reportedly broadcast themselves distributing money to the poor in Liangshan Yi Autonomous Prefecture in southwest China's Sichuan Province. It later transpired that once the cameras stopped rolling they took the money back.
In November, a man was detained in Shanghai for emulating drug use to his followers. The man, known only by his surname Huang, said he did so to "attract more fans" because the more followers he has, the higher his monthly income, according to local police.
Some anchors have even been caught in "compromising positions" during webcasts, according to a report on youth.cn.
The authorities are beginning to draft and implement measures for this emerging sector.
In Beijing, following a national regulation thousands of accounts on live-streaming websites have been shut down, after since it came into effect on Dec. 1, local authorities said last week.
The central government has punished or closed more than 2,500 websites across the country since a campaign against online pornography was launched in April this year, the country's anti-pornography office said Thursday.
More than 3.27 million pieces of "harmful information," including items deemed "erotic," had been deleted as of November, according to a statement from the National Office Against Pornographic and Illegal Publications.
"Service providers should wake up and realize that narcissistic and vulgar content is not suitable for the audience," said Zhang Yi, iResearch CEO.
Zhang said that the industry is still in its infancy and once it looses that "shock of the new" appeal, user numbers will inevitably decrease.
Several major live-streaming websites, including huajiao.com, douyu.com and yixia.com, have agreed to remove offensive content from their platforms, and help build a cleaner, safer online environment for their users.
"The industry will mature in two to three years," said Inke vice president Liang Zhiwei. "Now it is a critical turning point for our future."