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IN CASE you've just returned from an Internet hiatus, live streaming apps are all the vogue. In China alone, the market is reportedly worth US$5 billion, thanks to millennials who find joy in broadcasting snippets of their everyday lives to viewers, many of whom are strangers. These millennial streamers share one dream. That is, to become an Internet celebrity and get paid, whether it's for their dancing, singing, makeup or even chit-chatting chops. If viewers love their act, they get "paid" in virtual gifts, which they can then redeem for real cash.
This week, I had my closest encounter with live streaming, a phenomenon which took China and South-east Asia by storm really only last year. I watched in awe as a 32-year-old man made nearly S$10 in 10 minutes just by holding up his smartphone camera and chatting.
This man is Kenneth Tan. He is the founder and chief executive officer of BeLive, said to be the first Singapore-founded live streaming app. BeLive has been available in beta since February, and already, it has more than 1,000 unique streamers, 300 of whom stream at least once weekly.
The most fascinating thing was that Mr Tan was not even saying anything remotely newsy or intelligent. He was simply having a live conversation with his viewers, who would more often than not, type out inane messages such as "suppp" or questions such as "Where are you?".
To show more support, some viewers would send him virtual gifts - paid for in gems, which are an in-app form of currency that you can buy with real cash. Such gifts are the holy grail for every streamer, as that is how they make their money. With every virtual gift sent, a streamer will get 60 per cent of its worth, and BeLive will take 40 per cent.
Viewers pay S$1.48 for 100 gems, and up to S$148.98 for 12,000 gems, which will allow them to give streamers a car and mansion (see table above). Top streamers on BeLive are said to earn S$400 to S$500 for a 30-minute stream. That's more than 10 times the rate of a "super tutor"! The latter earns at least S$1 million a year in fees, and charges some S$40 per half hour.
Mr Tan is not at all surprised. He says: "Engagement on live streaming apps is extremely high. Viewers can spend many hours on an app without knowing it because they're chatting. This, coupled with watching live comments from other viewers pop up on the screen, and watching the streamer's act, all contribute to engagement."
He adds that brands are increasingly using live streaming apps to promote their products, which range from games and beauty products to clothes and even cafes. "The conversion to download is higher - versus other platforms - when a streamer says to check out a product."
BeLive has snagged US$2.2 million in funding, US$1.5 million of which was raised in a recent seed round from venture capital firms Seristin Ventures and Raging Bull.
Mr Tan says the goal is for BeLive to be the No 1 app in Asia (excluding China) and for it to become as popular as Snapchat, the California-based app that allows users to send videos and pictures which will self-destruct after a few seconds of a person viewing them.
Snap, the parent company of Snapchat, last month made a euphoric debut on the New York Stock Exchange, amid scepticism from the market. Its opening price of US$24 gave it a market capitalisation of about US$33 billion, prompting many to call the stock overvalued.
Interestingly, many market watchers had not seen Snap's initial public offering coming. They had been quick to dismiss the app as frivolous and just silly fun, and made little effort to engage it, or seek to understand why millennials and brands can't seem to stop using it.
Live streaming appears to be starting out the same way. Despite the revenues and popularity of such apps, many people are unenthusiastic, calling it a fad, and possibly eventually missing out. Businesses should take time to see what's happening, and not be too quick to underestimate what looks like a fatuous craze.