Live Q&A: The Next Frontier of Chinese Streaming

8 min read 

“I just killed time in a more meaningful way,” Api said of the last weekend.

Api finished round one of Arena of Valor at 2:25 am on January 6. He quickly brushed his teeth and jumped in bed to wait for a live stream scheduled to begin at 11:30 pm on Xigua Video. During the previous four and a half hours, he switched among 3 most popular Live Q&A games – Chongding, Cheese Superman and Million Battle, and played Arena of Valor to fill the gaps.

Five days ago, famous young billionaire and investor Sephirex Wang had his 30th birthday. He met the public’s expectations of a rich heir and declared “I am willing to give money away – I am happy to do so!” At 9 pm, he paid 100,000 yuan to Chongding and 280,000 users participated online.

Wang said:”I am willing to give money away – I am happy to do so! If you think you’re smart, try Chongding.”

It was the same day Sephirex Wang set off changes in live streaming. Within five days, dozens of Q&A shows flooded China’s streaming sites, such as Millionaire Hero on Xigua Video, Cheese Superman on Inke and Million Battle on Huajiao.

Sephirex Wang’s promotion helped ordinary users to find the courage to “kill time” online. The Chinese streaming industry peaked in 2016 and flattened in 2017. For two years, it has been seen as an “unnecessary” pastime. At the start of the New Year in 2018, Api and his friends all became new live-streaming users.

Chongding

“WeChat Moments is flooded with streaming Q&As,” Api said. Many users have started to participate such live events. Api said, they “only answer the questions and don’t watch live broadcasts.” But most don’t understand the new business that people like Sephirex Wang are doing.

Live Streaming Apps Growing Users

From January 3 to 7, live streaming apps dramatically increased their user base. ASO100 data shows that downloads of Xigua Video on the Android marketplace rose from 1.74 million to 16.1 million, an increase of 10 times within five days. Inke and Huajiao showed similar trends.

Users found that if they spent time in an interesting way with potential bonuses, they wouldn’t feel they wasted it.

The temptation of “competition” has been ever present in human society. With “knowledge” and “rewards,” live Q&A sessions attract users through their desire for victory and profits. In essence, it is low-cost and high-efficiency way to attract users.

At 11:30 pm on January 6, more than 1 million people connected to the Millionaire Hero Q&A on Xigua Video. At the same time, more than 1 million people watched in Cheese Superman. The prize was 1 million yuan, meaning the average cost per user was 1 yuan.

Such online traffic brings two placed together. In the past, watching live streams was a passive action and the online situation hardly overlapped with the viewer’s experience. In Q&A streams, users’ attention is highly concentrated, and the online and offline experience merges. But that means the appearance of advertisements is ever more offensive to viewers.

In the early hours of January 7, the 1 million yuan prize on Xigua Video ended up being shared by 20 users, which meant each got more than 43,000 yuan. Api complained in WeChat Moments that the 12th question, “How many strokes are in Xigua Video?” was a hard advertisement,

In order not to miss live Q&A streams, some users not only download live streaming Apps but accept notification reminders – an option that used to be regularly rejected.

“Novelty, induction and ambiguity” are common characteristics of notifications. But the notices bring users like Api into the App, which helps to fully realize the traffic value of Q&A streams.

“I find that many live streams teach you how to cook,” Api said. On the night of January 8, after failing again in a Q&A, Api charged his three mobile phones and watched short videos until late in the night.

Pioneer of Live Social Streaming

Online merges with offline (OMO) replaced online to offline (O2O) as the buzz term of 2017 when online traffic peaked.

Faced with declining user counts in 2017, all major streaming platforms attempted to harness “social” features to retain and attract users. A sense of crisis gripped many short video platforms. Toutiao, which has many short videos, adopted the slogan “short video social” in 2017.

Q&A live streaming provided an efficient solution to the problem. It not only realized the social function, but also successfully bonded online broadcast tools to the offline social circle.

In the last five days of 2018, Api’s WeChat Moments were flooded with re-start codes. At noon on July 7, a college friend asked Api in WeChat why he didn’t use his code.

“There are so many codes, I didn’t realize failing to use them might be seen as a slight,” Api said.

The restart code for live Q&A streams opened the possibility of bonding offline and online interaction. In this sense, even the online publicity resulting from restart codes is no longer the focus.

In the late 1960s, French psychologists Moskowitz and Savarino proposed group polarization, arguing that “discussions usually reinforce the general tendency among group members.” In communities (including virtual communities), like-minded groups reinforce their “interests”. On the content platforms such as live streaming sites, the group polarization generated by social interaction means close relationship bondings.

On different occasions, Api was part of different groups of “family” and “colleagues” and he had no time for his friend. “It’s not a matter of familiarity, but a matter of distance,” he said. The 10-second rule limits the group’s partners to those around them, he said, “I am too nervous to look at WeChat group pop-ups.”

In the past online to offline era, social features emphasized that the relationship was online but the behavior is offline. Online groups can hardly perform offline activities together. Objectively, the online social relationship was gradually weakened by the individual’s offline activities.

In the Q&A streaming scenario, the relationship is offline and the behavior is online. When acquaintances in the physical world transfer their behavior online, the relationship is strengthened and consumer behavior, traffic and user attention are harnessed.

Future of Q&A Streams

On the evening of August 8, Sephirex Wang’s  said in his WeChat Moments, “A summary of the first week of 2018: Sephirex Wang spent money; Zhou Hongyi (Huajiao investor) spent money; and Feng Yousheng (Inke fonder) spent money.” Zhou and Feng commented under the moment, hinting that their platforms would continue.

In China’s discourse environment, the first steps of live Q&A streams were successful. At least that’s what the “money-givers” think.

Live Q&A streams were based on HQ Trivia streams in the US. Founder Rus Yusupov previously created the 6-second short video platform Vine. The timely element of live Q&A streams is import, and it inspired the Chinese live and short video market.

HQ Trivia streams vs. Chongding

It may be too conservative to say the live Q&A streaming platform is like “drinking poison to quench one’s thirst.”

The industry’s biggest concern is the sustainability of prize purses, which it believes pose a “cash burning” threat to management. Greediness and rationing are the spear and shield of live Q&A streams. Greediness brings new customers, high quality traffic and attention. Rationing ensures there are steady waves of momentum.

Restricting greed brings rationality. User payment is the first step in the new industry’s dynamic development. Since users are throwing out minnows to catch a whale, will they be stingy? In such context, it’s not so hard for users to pay small for a big deal.

Api supports the idea. “There is no difference between a penny and a dollar. We all want the million yuan,” he said. He said if each online user pays 1 yuan per game, the prize will be considerable.

A large live streaming platform employee said said every new product launches with a trend of volatility. The platform does not expect the product to always be at its peak, but it’s acceptable as long as new customers come in.

How to keep new users coming in after the platform stabilizes is the bigger question. From a positive perspective, live Q&A streams amplify the individual’s sense of control. To maintain such a user experience, there must be “openness and transparency.” Without this, the user loses trust and the social glue of the brand is lost.

In the same way, the lottery has a national endorsement, and Q&A TV programs disclose their contestants’ information. How commercial live Q&A streams can cultivate trust and consolidate new users is more practical than “burning money.”

Restart codes can flood the screen, but can winners’ information be transparent and public? This question will determine the fate of Q&E streams.

This article by Zhang Fan originally appeared in Tencent Technology and was translated by Pandaily.
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