How Livestreaming turned China’s Rural Life Around

May 15, 2020: Ma Huihuang (left), leader of the poverty relief team of Shibadong Village, together with Shi Linjiao (middle), a local, promotes local products via livestreaming in the village in Xiangxi Tujia and Miao Autonomous Prefecture, central China’s Hunan Province. Shibadong, located in the hinterland of the Wuling Mountains, was once a poverty-stricken village. In 2014, it became the first village where “targeted poverty alleviation” was put forward. Nowadays, it has successfully shook off poverty. by Chen Sihan /Xinhua

Over the last few years, livestreaming and short video sharing platforms have taken off, especially in China. At a time when information spreads faster and faster, users of smart devices are fed an increasing flow of information and entertainment, shortening the lifespan of social media content. Responding to this trend, livestreaming and dedicated short video platforms are taking the lead in people’s daily lives, providing them news, entertainment, tutorials, and more. Everybody can find some benefit in it, with some platforms specializing to address specific needs: gaming, lifestyle, entertainment, family-friendly programming, etc.

Ecommerce was the first industry to take on this livestreaming trend. Since 2016, several Chinese major ecommerce companies such as Taobao and rode the wave of livestreaming by offering vendors the chance to livestream their products. It was even more successful than expected. Between 2016 and 2019, the annual market growth rate reached 200 percent. Now, after five years of fast and steady development, the livestreaming ecosystem has improved, and entertainment short videos and livestreaming companies also embraced this ecommerce trend. Since 2018, the Chinese giant Douyin (known globally as Tiktok) and the outsider Kuaishou (known globally as Kwai) both offer dedicated shopping channels, acting as intermediaries between vendors and buyers. Gradually, the “two-dimensional” sales format of pictures and text gave way to a new “three-dimensional” one featuring live videos. Thanks to these new communication channels, consumers now have the possibility to interact with sellers directly, whereas sellers can build engagement and trust. As of June 2020, Chinese live viewers and online shoppers respectively reached 562 million and 749 million.

Li Jianxi (left) from Hong Kong and Sun Jiaxi from Guangzhou in a livestreaming studio of the Hong Kong and Macao Youth Association in Tianhe District, Guangzhou Province. The couple now faces the camera with ease. Last year, they jointly started a business and became internet celebrities.

This trend took off even faster among rural people who saw in it new business opportunities to promote rural products. The turning point was in 2019. In addition to development programs already in place in several provinces to improve transport and broadband infrastructure, the Chinese government launched supporting policies under the poverty alleviation plan. This eventually led platforms to expand their offerings. Celebrity anchors embraced the trend as well which gave a big push to the whole industry.

This trend kept growing during the outbreak of COVID-19 with preferential policies to support consumption, additional broadband improvement, reduced service fees for vendors and optimized service quality. When many farmers who were confronted with huge difficulties and overstock due to the pandemic, livestreaming helped them keep their businesses afloat.

Also in line with poverty alleviation policies, several counties launched rural training programs for livestreaming anchors to invite local people to learn how to make the best use of these new technologies to sell their products and increase their revenue. A new type of anchoring started along with a new profession: rural livestreaming agent. People willing to push local life took to the road, going from farm to farm to help the whole country discover the best products from the countryside. Making use of their imaginations, they show country life, cooking sessions using local products, farmers’ daily work and the entire production process of agricultural products, displaying the origin of the product clear and cultivating consumer confidence in product quality.

These new endeavors encouraged many migrant workers to return to their villages and enjoy a real family life and earn income locally. Many fresh graduates also consider returning to their hometowns to put their newly acquired skills at the service of their family farming businesses in hope of taking them to the next level. Some put in place cutting-edge agricultural engineering technologies for better crop growth monitoring, improved harvesting and productivity, and increased profitability while freeing up time for new online sales generation. To further boost this type of initiative, banking entities launched micro credit solutions to support farmers’ projects.

If online sales make the biggest part of rural livestreaming, the growing interest of city dwellers in country living also opened up new possibilities. During the COVID-19 outbreak, urbanites remained at home for months dreaming of better days in larger and greener spaces. The fast-paced life in big cities lost some of its luster and people started casting a new gaze on village life, emblematic of a slower pace and tranquility. Long before the coronavirus outbreak started, several villages have already started promoting country living online to boost local tourism. Gradually, a growing number of rural people dabble in livestreaming and make a name by casting a new light on daily rural life, opening an appealing window for urbanites on the countryside life they fantasize about.

Livestreaming has become instrumental in poverty alleviation relief by bringing more opportunities for rural people to keep living in their hometowns and increase their incomes or even create new businesses. What’s more, it has brought two opposite worlds closer to each other: the urban and the rural world which have drifted farther and farther from each other over the last decade. If it remains difficult for newcomers to gain visibility, the market potential remains big. By March 2020, there were 904 million internet users in China including 255 million in rural areas where they account for 46.2 percent of the population. Among the 773 million livestreaming and short video platform users nationwide, which represent 85.6 percent of the total internet users in China, 200 million of them are in the countryside.

Livestreaming opens the way for increased rural prosperity. Even if some farmers still struggle to catch up with this new trend, prospects for prosperity will expand considering the consumer base in China and the constant development of technologies will continue to open the countryside to further possibilities. By using these new communication channels to develop business opportunities, no one will have to be left out.

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