Live streaming turning ordinary Chinese citizens into cashed-up stars

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Live streaming on social media has evolved into a booming billion dollar industry in China, embraced by people from all walks of life. From quirky to crude, more and more ordinary citizens are finding fame and fortune.

In the make-up room of a studio in east Beijing, Cherry is getting her make-up done. She’s been invited to the capital from the city of Xian where she lives to make an appearance in a new bi-weekly live streaming show ‘I am your Hawaiian Girl.’

“During the show I interact with the host and the 'tourists' which is what we call our viewers. Basically just enjoy myself and have fun!”

The 19-year-old used to work as a waitress making less than $20 a day. Now she makes at least ten times that, live streaming her personal life almost every day of the week.

Today she has close to half a million followers, a fan-base which has earnt her a spot in today’s episode.

I am your Hawaiian Girl
On set at the bi-weekly live streaming show ‘I am your Hawaiian Girl.'
SBS

 

All about getting people's attention

It's one of a handful produced by ‘Redo Media’, a company claiming to be China’s first professional live streaming studio.

Aside from ‘Hawaiian Girl,’ the studio identifies and trains up-and-coming live streaming talent, giving them studio facilities for their individual broadcast.

The main studio is being prepped. Human water tanks on-stage are being filled and another young female host is singing coquettishly before a laptop and row of cameras to 'warm up' the programs viewership.

"We're about to start, are you excited?" she says.

At 8pm a bikini-clad Cherry runs on stage, accompanied by a man in a red sequin mermaid costume.

Everything about the show is designed to get people's attention - it's crass, and oddly captivating. Hundreds of thousands of viewers tune in and reward performers with virtual gifts which are later exchanged for cash.

It's this instant interaction which sets live streaming apart.

Wang Chen is the studio manager and host of the show .

"Every gift represents a different value. The cheapest is a rose, it's worth 20 cents. The plane is worth $20, and the goddess is worth $100."

Each two hour episode reaches hundreds of thousands of viewers who give about $6000 dollars worth of gifts.

Earnings are split between the studio, the live streaming platform, the performers and their agents.

It's a billion dollar industry, with more than 100 companies in China offering live streaming services.

But while more and more live streamers market professionalism, others are proud of the opposite.

I am your Hawaiian Girl.
Live streaming show 'I am your Hawaiian Girl.'
SBS

From professionalism to populism: the why of live streaming

Kuaishou, or Kwai, is one of China's most talked about live streaming platforms.

Dubbed 'China's jackass', popular users include a woman who films herself eating bizarre foods, a boisterous ice fisherman and two young farmers who fool around with farming equipment.

Beijing-based technology journalist Tracey Xiang says Kuaishou has a reputation for being a platform for 'poor Chinese,' but says it simply embraces a bigger cross-section of society.

"It has successfully captured a wider audience in China. About half of Chinese people still live in rural areas."

Competitive pole-dancer and teacher Liu Ning is Kuaishou user and says that for her, it makes good business sense.

"Live streaming is a good way to market myself and this school. Everyone is watching live streaming these days, I'd be missing out if I didn't do it," says Liu.

She live streams classes and encourages her students to start accounts.

One of them, Dong Minghua uses his to challenge gender stereotypes about pole-dancing.

"I've always wanted to master pole-dancing and show people it can be an art, not just sexual and not just feminine."

Most live streamers are female, but smiling he says he has his own selling point: "I'm a muscular guy," says Dong.

For him, live streaming is more about personal encouragement than money.

"When I'm training and I find it hard to do a difficult move my viewers will encourage me and give me 'likes,' it's great!"

Back at the Redo Media studio Cherry is being helped into the water tank to begin a a series of underwater challenges.

It's demeaning and uncomfortable to watch, but Cherry doesn't stop smiling. As she's commanded to pick up objects from the bottom of the tank using her teeth the computer screen onstage explodes with comments from viewers and virtual gifts.

Like thousands of others across China, Cherry is committed to live streaming as a career, and will do what it takes to boost her online fame and fortune.

"Now I'm doing quite well and already a lot of people from my hometown know of me, Cherry."

I am your Hawaiian Girl
"Everything about the show is designed to get your attention."
SBS

 

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