The Logic of Livestreaming in China Is Changing

The days of the hard-sell livestreaming broadcast may be numbered in China as audiences crave lower-key content.

Over the past five years, livestreaming e-commerce has emerged as one of China’s top retail battlegrounds, with platforms like Taobao Live, Kuaishou, and Douyin raking in billions as top livestreaming hosts developed “sell-anything” reputations and cultivated millions-strong fan bases. According to iResearch, China’s livestreaming e-commerce industry exploded from 20.9 billion yuan ($3.1 billion) in gross merchandise value (GMV) in 2017 to 2.2 trillion yuan ($339.3 billion) last year, with the industry expected to surpass 4.9 trillion yuan ($732.8 billion) in 2023.

Despite the clear opportunity for brands to leverage the livestreaming e-commerce trend – which many fashion and luxury brands already have – the nature of the format is changing rapidly in response to ever-tightening restrictions and an ongoing crackdown by government censors on entertainment, tech, celebrities and influencers.

Recent months have seen massive upheaval in China’s livestreaming industry, with previously high-flying livestreaming hosts crashing down and brands scrambling to reconsider their approach to the format. Taobao Live mega-hosts Viya (Huang Wei) and Austin Li (Li Jiaqi), for example, found themselves in the crosshairs of regulators over the past year, with Viya hit by a $210 million fine for tax evasion in late 2021 and Li going dark after a June 3 broadcast appeared to make reference to the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests and massacre. But the livestreaming crackdown is far from limited to Taobao Live, with entrepreneur-turned-streamer Luo Yonghao’s exclusive partnership with Douyin, which launched to great fanfare before a counterfeiting scandal in 2020, gradually fading into irrelevance before Luo announced his “retirement” earlier this month.

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