How I Tried to Become Rich & Famous in China Through Live-Streaming
50% of Chinese Internet users have used live-streaming apps. What happens when a young American foreigner tries to get in on the scheme?
Project Pengyou intern, Shani Cave, walks you through her experiences live-streaming in China.
It was a normal Monday afternoon in the Project Pengyou courtyard office here in Beijing. Right as the team was headed out to lunch, Program Director Devin mentioned a performance her a cappella troupe was hosting the following week.
“Taylor…he’s the one that does the live streaming right?” Executive Director Alyssa asked.
“Yeah, that’s him. Have you read his column on Radii China? He’s actually making some money now on the app!” Devin chuckled, as interns Rochelle and Jia Wei chimed in with how they’ve also read his entertaining column.
Hearing this, my ears immediately perked up. As someone’s who’s always loved a good money-making side hustle, I had to find out more. What was live-streaming in China, and could I get rich doing it?
Live Streaming 101
In China, about 50% of Internet users have used live-streaming apps, either to watch others or to live-stream themselves. Those who live-stream range anywhere from already famous media personalities, sometimes representing a company product or brand, to the average Zhou showcasing a talent or gimmick to your everyday foreigner looking to strike it rich in China (may or may not be referring to self).
Now how exactly did those who excelled at live-streaming make money doing it? I headed over to China Live Stream to find answers on how I myself could get started. In most apps, a built in “gift-giving” function is available for users to send virtual gifts to live-streamers. The gifts can then be converted into cash. If anyone watching your live-stream liked you enough, they could send you gifts! It sounded too good to be true.
The app was run completely in Chinese, so I enlisted the help of intern Jia Wei to translate some terms for me while I was setting up my account. After choosing a profile image and updating my bio to read “我是一位中美混血的美国大学生,” I was ready to debut my career as a professional live-stream artist.
“But Shani! What on earth are you going to live-stream about?” echoed throughout the office. It was clear my co-workers had some doubts about my abilities to propel to stardom.
“Don’t worry you guys -my enchanting wit and charm will help me rake in the cash. Just wait and see,” I boasted confidently, hitting the green button at the bottom of the app interface.
Immediately, I was greeted with a real-time video feed of my own face. Before officially going live to the app’s audiences, I had the option of applying a filter to my live-stream feed.
I opted to stream with the 2 filter applied to my face and started my live-feed. 30 seconds in, and the audience counter at the top of the screen showed I had 20 viewers. I was ecstatic.
“It’s this easy??” I thought, as I said hi to my viewers and spoke in Chinglish about myself. After 10 minutes of rambling, I noticed I had over 100 people watching my feed. However, there was no notification of money pouring in, only the occasional “我点亮了,” equivalent of a “like,” on my live-stream. Having work to get back to at the office, I ended my stream and decided to try again later.
My first fan, or 粉丝
I started another live-stream later that night while I ate dinner in a cafe on Gulou street. I felt like a pro already.
Within 10 minutes, I had over 200 people watching my stream! Not only was I getting “likes,” people were also commenting on my feed. One user, 喜事连连ok, commented in the chat-box “哪里人”, which roughly translates to “where are you from.” I responded out loud. They then asked me where in Beijing I was located, and told me my feed was cutting off. Another user, 武侠天浩, commented that my video was choppy.
There was either a problem with the WiFi in the cafe, or the app itself, so I ended the live stream after a short 15 minutes. When I went back to my personal profile on the app, I saw that under the column labeled 我的粉丝, or “my fans”, was a number 1. User 武侠天浩 had subscribed to my feed, making him or her my first fan!
The next day, I had intern Rochelle also subscribe to me on the app, so she could watch my live-stream from the other end and determine if there were any problems. For some reason, the screen was completely black and she couldn’t hear anything I was saying (which really surprised me, because then why were people “liking” my feed if they couldn’t see or hear anything?)
I uninstalled the app, redownloaded it, and was determined to try once more. I could practically taste the fame and riches.
Rise to stardom
Fast forward to the next week. I had neglected my live-streaming duties the rest of the week prior, finding it hard to make time after work as I was busy exploring Beijing. I had also spent the weekend out of town.
Walking back into the office Monday morning, I vowed to myself that I would put more effort into my get-rich-and-famous-quick-by-live-streaming scheme.
I tried again before heading out to lunch, this time making sure I could be seen and heard from the other end before proceeding. I propped my iPhone against my laptop and began again by rambling about myself in Chinglish. People soon commented in the chat-box and I answered out loud in Chinese, recruiting intern Jia Wei to translate some Chinese-written terms for me. I was at 500 views within 10 minutes.
One user in particular really wanted to be my friend and private messaged me outside the chat. Another user was astonished I could speak Chinese. I was reveling in all my new-found fame.
All of a sudden, a notification for a 红包, or red packet, popped up on my screen and I nearly screamed. Did I just get my first payment?
Elated, I continued with my feed, knowing it would be unfair to cut off my new fans without warning. After another 15 minutes of answering questions and chatting with users, I ended my stream and went to check how much money I made.
I was almost shaking with excitement.
I clicked on the red packet. And there it was – .09 yuan in all its glory (for anyone wondering, that roughly converts to less than .01 dollars). Not only that, I also reached a total of 10 subscribers! And this was all after only live-streaming a couple times! I felt I could get used to this lifestyle.
So maybe I didn’t break the bank or reach A-list celebrity status through my live-streaming experiment. But I had a lot of fun, made 10 new Internet friends (well, 9 if you exclude intern Rochelle), and earned some pocket change to use on a rainy day. I might continue live-streaming when I head back to the US, giving my fans a view of what American millennial life is like, or I might even make a career out of it. Who knows?
Until my next scheme….
Have you tried live-streaming? Let us know in the comments below!