From Education to Online Shopping: Live-Streaming is China’s New Form of Digital Communication


Not just a trend, live-streaming in China is a real phenomenon. From education to entertainment, from online gaming to live shopping, real-time videos now represent the ultimate form of communication of Chinese millennials


Live-streaming in China is a real phenomenon. Nothing has changed the entertainment industry and shopping behavior like digital real-time content did in the last few years.

In late 2016, only a few hundreds of Chinese mobile apps had live-streaming features. But today, according to statistics, more than 100 million viewers watch a live online video event every month while nearly 32% of users buy products through live-streaming videos. Moreover, of the over 800 million people with internet connections in China, nearly half of them use real-time video apps.


Although, in the beginning, the live-streaming trend seemed to be just a fad, it has actually opened doors to a new form of communication. So much so that today, experts claim that China’s personal live-streaming market is going to be worth $8 billion in 2019.


But what does live-streaming mean?

The word live-streaming refers to the broadcasting of real-time content, a live video shared with a particular audience over the internet. An internet enabled device and a platform to broadcast on are the only tools needed. However, a typical successful live-stream involves a trusted speaker or a celebrity and it is usually shot with a smartphone.

Its popularity derives from two particular features: the chance for everyone to be seen by an audience and the complete transparency of the content as it is filmed live with no post-production.

Outside of China, when people talk about live-streaming they usually refer to some social media’s new features such as Facebook Live or Twitter’s broadcasting app Periscope, whose success did not last, unfortunately. However, in the Middle Kingdom, the live-streaming universe is a vast complex of smartphone applications, online platforms, and social features, which made broadcasting the top form of communication in 2019.


Live-Streaming is China’s New Form of Digital Communication - chengdu - cifnews

© Pixabay. Chengdu. Since 2002, an initiative at Chengdu No.7 High School – one of China’s best high school – allows students in rural areas to access classes via live-streaming.


Thanks to its interactive nature, these platforms were created for almost every kind of audiences with different purposes such as education, social networking, gaming, and now even commerce.

For what concerns education, real-time broadcasting is actually making a life-changing difference in China’s rural areas. Here, some pilot projects recently grabbed public attention after having sent several hundred students to top universities in the country’s and abroad.

Compared to students from larger cities such as Beijing and Shanghai, students from areas such as Henan and Shandong have always had limited opportunities to attend the best institutions and education inequalities still remain one of the most urgent issues in the PRC.

However, in the last few years, investments have been allocated to support the broadcasting of real-time courses to help disadvantaged students achieve better results in university entrance exams. Therefore, as a part of the Chinese government’s push to provide better connectivity to rural schools, live-streaming lessons have been launched across the Middle Kingdom.


According to China Youth Daily, in a 16-year effort of a Chinese online school, 88 out of 72,000 students who had learned through live-streaming were admitted to Peking University and Tsinghua University, the best two universities in the country.


In Gansu Province, more than 64,000 classrooms in poor rural areas were equipped with screen displays and webcams to make live-streaming lessons possible by the end of 2017.

“Technology has brought a new hope of equality, and distance learning is currently the most feasible technology that can help undermine social class divisions,” Yan Feng, a professor of Chinese literature at Fudan University in Shanghai, told China Youth Daily.

However, educational broadcasting is not spreading in schools only but it has rather become an online trend as well as entertainment live-streaming or “live shopping”.

CCTalk is part of a growing number of live broadcasting services in China’s education industry. Similar to entertainment and e-commerce applications of live streaming, educational live streams open a real-time channel between a host and an audience, or a teacher and students. Today, over 10,000 individuals and organizations are teaching classes on CCTalk so that even larger players such as Tencent and YY now have their own live education platform as well.


Live-Streaming is China’s New Form of Digital Communication - yizhibo - cifnews

© Yizhibo 一直播. China has become the largest market for live-streaming, which is expected to be worth $8 billion in 2019.


Nevertheless, riding the wave of online video success, the live-stream format has quickly become Chinese millennials favorite form of entertainment.

With the rising popularity of short-video apps, the live-broadcasting format also started to gain a renewed interest among users and apps like Yizhibo are now playing a significant role in the actual information-sharing ecosystem. With 59.7 million registered users, Yizhibo is one of the biggest live-streaming platforms in China, whose strength is to be fully integrated into the social network Weibo.

Even the online gaming industry is leveraging the live-streaming trend. Currently, the Asian country is the second-largest online gaming market behind the United States. Already in 2017, it generated around $104 million in revenue from eSports – electronic sports – while the US generated $258 million.

As the world’s second largest market, China is also home to one of the largest gamer-bases in the world, therefore, many live-streaming platforms now focus on the gaming trend. The two dominant players in China are Douyu 斗鱼 and Huya 虎牙直播, which is a subsidiary of YY Live, one of the top Chinese broadcasting platforms. Here users can share and engage with videos of any sort including gaming.

However, while many companies adapted their platforms to respond to this new need for real-time content, live-streaming is actually revolutionizing the entire e-commerce sector.


As about 95% of e-commerce activity in China is made through mobile devices, live-streaming has indeed become a powerful tool for the online retail industry.


Broadcasting in the PRC started as a non-commercial trend with young people sharing their lives and talents but it surprisingly started to influence the local e-commerce industry. In the Celestial Empire, what was once a niche subculture has now evolved into a brand-new “live shopping” experience with brands leveraging the whole potential of this new communication channel.

As about 95% of e-commerce activity in China is made through mobile devices, live-streaming has indeed become a powerful tool for the online retail industry. Today, e-commerce penetrates the majority of live-streams whether through fashion show broadcasts or via internet celebrities reviewing the latest cosmetic product, enabling consumers to buy what they see on the screen in real-time.

Even during the Single Day, China’s biggest sales event, the e-commerce giant Alibaba live-streamed a fashion show called “See Now, Buy Now”. The show was broadcasted live on 10 platforms including Taobao, Youku, Weibo and Toutiao giving to millions of consumers the opportunity to buy products on the spot, therefore giving birth to the first form of “entertain-merce”, a combination of entertainment and e-commerce.

The main “live shopping” apps are Taobao Live and JD Live, which are the implemented real-time video features of two of the main Chinese marketplaces, Alibaba’s Taobao and These kinds of “parallel” marketplaces allow merchants to link a series of products to the stream and users can interact with the streamer on air.


Live-Streaming is China’s New Form of Digital Communication - live shopping - cifnews

© Alizila. During last Alibaba’s Single Day, the “See Now, Buy Now” fashion show let viewers make real-time purchases of any items on the runway from their mobile phones.


As mentioned above, today, nearly 32% of users buy products through live-streaming videos. Behavior that goes hand in hand with the growing demand for better quality and transparency of China’s new consumers.

In fact, while many new “live” Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs) are flourishing, live-streaming apps turned into a key branding tool for companies, even when they do not directly lead to sales. Through live-streams, KOLs endorse products or places but the real strength is that viewers can engage in real-time conversations to learn more about the topic.

Travel brands found in this format the ideal environment to sponsor travel destinations. Through live videos, users have the chance to become aware of new places and have an up-close view of unknown destinations. It thus works as a buzz-making tool rather than a common e-commerce platform.

Therefore, broadcasting allows room for spontaneity, giving the illusion of bringing the host and the audience closer through real-time interactions. In a country where the customer gives extraordinary importance to building relationships and sharing interests, it is certainly a powerful tool.

The Dragon is witnessing many changes in its consumer behavior in the last few years. From New Retail to “live shopping”, Chinese younger generations are taking back the concept of “here and now” building new forms of communication and shaping new commercial environments.

Foreign companies as well are trying to integrate live features into their platforms, but are foreign customers ready to “see now, buy now” yet?


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