This Tuesday, Dateline reporter Amos Roberts travels to China to explore the voyeuristic craze of young people who are breaking out of poverty by live streaming their ordinary lives – bringing money, celebrity status, and providing cheap entertainment for the masses.
China’s censorship laws and regulations seal the country off from much of the global internet. There’s no Facebook, Twitter or Google connecting them to the rest of the world. Stripped of everything from politics to pornography, hundreds of millions of Chinese people turn to live streaming platforms for entertainment.
China’s live streaming industry more than doubled in size last year, with revenues of around $3 billion US, according to Credit Suisse. More than 344 million – about half of China’s internet users – have used at least one of China’s approximately 150 live-streaming apps.
Streamer and comedian Wang Xiaoyuan has over 5 million fans. “Before I became a streamer, I was idling away my time on the net every day. In the real world, I’m a guy with no real achievements – I didn’t do well at school, I’m not from a privileged family, I have limited skills for other jobs. So, I decided to become a live streamer,” said Xiaoyuan.
This self-confessed unemployable young man earns a fortune without leaving home. He won’t say how much, but it’s enough to buy his apartment – and a couple of others.
“It benefits my whole family. I don’t need to worry about food and clothing. My parents are retired – they don’t need to work anymore. They feel secure. I can give my parents a comfortable life and I can live comfortably too,” he said.
Dateline also reveals the extreme pressure live streamers are under to maintain their celebrity and keep the money rolling in for themselves, their agents and their struggling families – without getting banned by the censors.
Over the last 18 months there’s been a crackdown on live streaming focusing on morality. Since then, thousands of streamers have been banned and strict new regulations introduced. In July, three major internet platforms were ordered to shut down their streaming services.
The live streaming phenomenon has been an irresistible story of modern China for the Los Angeles Times Beijing bureau chief, Jonathan Kaiman.
“It’s impossible to overestimate the degree to which the Communist Party will go to maintain its grip on the discourse,” he said.
“The government has teams of censors, and forces internet companies to have their own teams of censors, that can number in the tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands that are attuned to the government’s demands. They know, or they have an idea, where the red lines are and it’s their job to shut things down.”
Dateline looks at how these live streamers – who need to think on their feet – manage to avoid the wrath of the government censors. And what will happen to these temporary stars when they can no longer keep their demanding fans entertained 24/7?
Tuesday 26 September at 9.30pm on SBS.