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Livestreaming: A New Playground for Creativity and Community

As China’s digital space evolves, the boundaries between customer experience and online community are being refined.

Singles’ Day continued its tradition of breaking records this year, living up to its reputation as the world’s most important shopping festival with close to half a trillion RMB in sales (US$74.1 billion) generated. Since the lifting of China’s lockdown, industry analysts have pointed to a displacement of consumption and the rise of so-called ‘revenge spending’. Whatever the precise causes, an undeniable driver of China’s retail rebound has been the advent of livestreaming, a trend that in the post-Covid new normal looks here to stay.

Covid-19 has accelerated technological advances across consumer spaces at a speed faster than any other historical period. Continued lockdowns and travel restrictions have forced brands to consistently deliver compelling content and novel experiences to their customers through digital means. As China’s super platforms like Tmall, Pinduoduo and RED consolidate their popularity, a common thread across the entirety of China’s digital ecosystem is the power and prevalence of livestreamed video.

2020 will go down in history as the year that - among other things - catalysed the development of livestreaming. Well over half a billion Chinese consumers tuned into a livestream at some point this year. The technology has officially outgrown its fad status to become one of the easiest, most effective and increasingly mainstream ways to reach and engage audiences at scale. From a user perspective, it has provided a connection with brands and experiences in ways hitherto not possible. Audiences connect with hosts and peers, with interactive features such as in-chat functions, polls, Q&As and more that drive conversations and connectivity. Ultimately, livestreaming offers that rarest of lockdown things - a front row seat for a world of intimate digital and retail experiences.

At TONG, we’ve been monitoring this trend in detail, applying this technology to a host of our brand productions and activations. Here, we profile some of the more exciting applications of livestreaming beyond fashion and luxury, looking to the Culture and Arts, Music and Gaming industries.


Culture and Arts

With performances, exhibitions and attractions from museums to zoos closed to the public, creators have moved their experiences online as a means of survival. Many organisations have leveraged livestreaming to make public spaces and public attractions accessible digitally. In China itself, the Chengdu Research Base of Giant Panda Breeding have made conservation heroes out of their staff, shining a light on those monitoring and caring for giant pandas and their cubs around the clock via Bilibili, while giving audiences at home a glimpse into the daily lives of these iconic creatures.

Earlier this year, Hong Kong Ballet launched HKBALLET@HOME, a digital platform livestreaming online ballet classes, Q&As, workouts with sportswear giant Puma and stage make-up tutorials from MAC Cosmetics. Throughout the summer, Beijing’s Jingju Theatre Company held weekly live broadcasts of their opera performances, as well as virtual singing lessons for those looking to learn more on operatic techniques. Livestreaming is fostering a new cohort of content creators, individuals, small businesses and brands, to consistently test and trial new enticing digital solutions for their audiences.

HKBALLET@HOME by Hong Kong Ballet
HKBALLET@HOME by Hong Kong Ballet

Last month, TONG and Temple Spa, a British brand with a Mediterranean Soul, launched the company’s first ever livestream on Little Red Book 小红书 in the run up to Singles' Day. Hosted at Harrods by TONG, Temple Spa founder Liz Warom took beauty KOL Frances 土扑鼠 and her 350k followers through the history of the brand, its iconic products, design and philosophy. From seasonal routines, self-care rituals to expertly curated tips, this new channel forged personable connections and relatable recommendations to drive a positive trajectory in this new territory.

Frances 土扑鼠 & Liz Warom by TONG
Frances 土扑鼠 & Liz Warom by TONG

Music

China has been leading the way recently in livestreaming music, supporting the industry and its creatives domestically and internationally. With the pandemic closing venues, the music scene in China has moved swiftly online. Fans now have the opportunity to experience their favourite artists via new and exciting mediums, a new solution to bridging the gap between both creator and consumer during a period where belonging, inspiration and hope is much desired. One of the highlights of 2020 has been ‘cloud-clubbing’, where artists transform their backdrop (physical or virtual) into a stage. In a similar vein, streaming giant Bilibili earlier this year collaborated with Chinese indie music label Modern Sky to take their annual Strawberry Music Festival online. Performances by over 70 artists were made accessible for audiences to enjoy live, as well as artist discussions and interviews hosted in-app.

In another partnership, Tencent joined forces with Spotify to launch TME Live. Dedicated to producing live music performances for Chinese audiences, TME Live has featured big name acts including Taiwanese artist Richie Jen, Chinese Singer-Songwriter Hu Xia 胡夏, K-Pop stars BTS and last month, a China exclusive performance from American breakout star Billie Eilish. The concert was streamed in 3D via the platform and on Tencent Music's QQ Music, Kugou Music, Kuwo Music and WeSing free of charge, with a select group of fans given virtual backstage access to interact with the singer directly prior to the show. This platform is expanding rapidly, ratcheting up over 100 million views in its first six months. With a recent deal with LA based streaming company Wave secured, TME Live is set to bring more Western artists to China via exclusive digital concerts on the platform.

Billie Eilish by Tencent Music
Billie Eilish by Tencent Music

Gaming

A significant proportion of the audience making up China’s livestreaming consumption comes from the gaming industry. China holds the world’s largest gaming community, with 640 million players across the country. 75% of the industry’s profits stem from streaming platforms, with millions tuning in to channels like Douyu daily to see their favourite athletes compete, as well as to catch tips from others’ game play. Live gameplay is continuing to swell as a sport and pastime because it is pure, unfiltered, authentic content. Its spontaneous, unscripted nature mimics the reality of being next to the players themselves, up close to their techniques and reactions first hand, whether that be one of the greats competing at the League of Legends World Championships in Shanghai or smaller scale micro influencers such as Mr. Liyou 离忧先生 playing Souls of Blades 剑魄. The uncut content enhances the experience of the game and the in-chat functionality on the platforms offers spectators the chance to connect with fellow fans, discuss details of the game and share their own insights into the game play.

Photography by David Goldman via the Wall Street Journal
Photography by David Goldman via the Wall Street Journal

Livestreaming has been highly valuable this year and stepped up to serve many purposes across creativity, community, entertainment and education. Amidst a year of uncertainty and restriction, it has enabled communities to continue to thrive and transcend borders created by the pandemic. From shopping to music, dining to gaming, it is evident from Singles’ Day’s record breaking numbers that livestreaming is not just a reaction, rather an evolution of digital. It is an essential tool for continued connectivity between companies, consumers and communities, a lifeline for many sectors and a vehicle for the recovery process. Livestreaming has redefined the experience for how many activities are consumed, testing our adaptability as humans whilst pushing the boundaries of technology and innovation. As 2021 draws near, we expect to see more unveils across streaming platforms accommodating for people and spaces in China to be interconnected more than ever before.

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