Will Live.me Bring China-Style Live-Streaming to the US?

Zhibo is on its way overseas

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6:00 AM HKT, Wed November 1, 2017 3 mins read

Here at RADII we devote a lot of space to zhibo, which is live-streaming China-style: full of random chaos, people eating rats, absurd sticker overlays and bucket-loads of cash being sloshed around in the form of virtual gifts like 2D Ferraris. Here’s a general intro to the phenomenon by our resident zhibo columnist:

While some of the live-streaming platforms most popular in China — such as Kwai and our columnist’s app of choice, Yingke — are all but unknown outside the country, a few China-born live-streaming apps have begun picking up steam in the US.

One of them is Live.me, which was created by Beijing-based app powerhouse Cheetah Mobile (if you’re an Android user you’ve probably encountered Cheetah’s Clean Master app, which comes pre-installed on many phones). Live.me spun off into a separate company not long after launching in April 2016, and earlier this year raised $60 million to tackle other players in the overseas live-streaming race, which includes entrants from Facebook (Live), Google (YouTube Live), Twitter (Periscope), and Musical.ly (see below).

It’s lit!

Ken Xu of Gobi Partners, one of the China-based funds involved in Live.me’s recent investment round, tells Radii that “the overseas market [was] its target since day one,” and that Live.me set up its US operations, which include a main office in Los Angeles, in November 2016. Xu says that the app had more than 40 million users as of mid-2017, 80% of whom are based in the US.

Live.me’s stated focus is on live-streaming talent, and developing a monetization strategy based on quality content as opposed to the anything-goes shock material that often dominates Chinese live-streaming. This quality-over-quantity approach may also serve to differentiate Live.me from Facebook’s plays in the space, which are immediately accessible to the platform’s 2 billion active users.

Some China streams (via TechNode)

Last week, Live.me launched a new social video app, Cheez, which is like a supercharged Vine, allowing users to create and share short video content up to 17 seconds long. (Videos on Vine, a Twitter service that got the axe almost exactly one year ago, maxed out at six seconds.)

Live.me evidently thinks live-streaming, mobile-optimized video celebrity is the entertainment wave of the future: around the same time it launched Cheez, the company unveiled a brand-new, 4,000-square-foot production studio in West Hollywood:

Named Spotlight Studio, the space will be open to broadcasters looking to utilize Live.me’s resources, equipment, stage, or simply to meet other creators interested in developing collaborations. The studio will also be used for Live.me’s own original content strategy, including a newly announced in-studio variety show, a weekly Broadcaster Academy focused on providing tips and tricks to broadcasters of all levels, and short video content for the company’s newly launched social video app, Cheez.

It seems that Live.me is a strong contender in the race to bring China-style live-streaming to the US, but it also faces significant challenges. A recent investigation by UK paper Sunday Times details a security flaw by which Live.me users, many of whom are legal minors streaming from their bedrooms, inadvertently make their physical addresses available to online predators.

Live.me faces challenges on the business front as well. Ironically, one of its main competitors is another made-in-China app that’s more popular overseas than at home: Musical.ly. Like Live.me, Musical.ly is angling to fill the post-Vine gap. After launching as a lip-syncing app, the company released a live-streaming app called Live.ly last year, encouraging its one million global users to broadcast their lives and rewarding top performers with thousands of dollars a month, a milestone that Rolling Stone described as “too big for pop to ignore.”

“Selfie from the Future,” “Instant Glam,” and “Meitu Family” filters (via TechNode)

Even Facebook, whose CEO just days ago made his latest pilgrimage to kiss the ring in Beijing, is trying to get its hands on the China live-stream secret sauce to enhance its product offerings. In July, it announced a partnership with Xiamen company Meitu to integrate the latter’s AR photo effects into Facebook’s camera to create a series of interactive filters, including one called “Selfie from the Future.”

While the number of US live-streamers will never touch the figures posted by China (there were almost as many live-streaming platform users in China as there are residents in America as of the end of last year), there’s certainly a lot of money to be made. It will be interesting to watch how this cultural trend, an essentially made-in-China phenomenon, takes root in the US, and whether Chinese-made products like Live.me and Musical.ly will maintain their edge overseas.

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