* Live streaming sector has seen tremendous growth
* Attracts tens of thousands hoping to find stardom
* China's tech heavyweights are investing in sector
* This year could see sector consolidate, analysts say
BEIJING, April 12 (Reuters) - Jing Qi, a part-time presenter
on the live streaming platform Huajiao, underwent cosmetic
surgery in March to improve her chances of becoming an internet
After five hours of rhinoplasty and facial fat injections
that left her with gauze covering her nose, eyes, forehead and
cheeks, the 27-year-old said she felt "even worse than dead".
But the suffering was worth it.
Jing is among tens of thousands hoping to find online
stardom as an anchor on the live video streaming phenomenon
sweeping China's media.
The fastest-emerging internet sector barely existed in China
three years ago but last year produced revenues of more than 30
billion yuan ($4.3 billion) and according to an estimate by
investment bank China Renaissance Securities, is set to more
than triple that by 2020. That puts it on track to overtake
cinema box office receipts in a few year’s time.
"I want more people to watch me, to spend Huajiao coins on
me," Jing explained, referring to the virtual gifts her online
followers buy that she can later redeem in part for cash.
"In the end, I'll be able to marry a tall, handsome and rich
man," Jing said.
The rapid growth of live streaming in China has attracted a
rush of investment, led by China’s tech heavyweights, Tencent
Holdings, Alibaba Group Holding and Baidu Inc
. They hope live streaming can boost existing services
in e-commerce, social networking and gaming.
Tencent, the country’s biggest online gaming and social
networking company, is backing a slew of streaming and
interactive entertainment firms, including gaming platform
Douyu. Alibaba's Taobao marketplace launched a live-streaming
platform early last year, allowing sellers to promote products
directly to online viewers in real time.
The lure is some 344 million Chinese netizens – more than
the population of every country on the planet bar China and
India - who were watching live streaming sites in December. And
that is only about 47 percent of all Chinese Internet users.
There are about 150 live streaming platforms, most producing
The importance of live streaming in lower-tier cities is
greater than elsewhere in China. Access to the internet via a
mobile phone is the major, if not the only, gateway to shopping
and entertainment, said Karen Chan, equities analyst at
Jefferies Hong Kong.
Live streaming has also bolstered the growth of ancillary
businesses, including agencies looking to find the next live
streaming star, consumer loans, and even cosmetic surgery.
Deng Jian, chairman of Three Minute TV, an agency that
provides 1,000 trained anchors to more than three dozen
platforms, said his business operates a “militarised” production
machine to feed the live streaming industry.
At an office building in a suburb of Beijing, dozens of
Deng’s female anchors work each day around the clock in three
shifts. Each anchor sits in a small booth, decorated to appear
like a girl’s bedroom, facing a computer.
They sing and flirt with fans, encouraging them to buy
virtual gifts, like a rose, sportscar or villa. The cash for the
gifts is split by the platforms, agencies and the anchor.
Three Minute TV also arranges cosmetic surgery at partner
hospitals for its anchors, arranges small bank loans for the
surgery, photographs and markets the anchors and helps them find
acting opportunities Deng said.
After the spurt of growth in live streaming and the rush of
platforms it spawned, the arrival of tech giants is pointing to
consolidation in the sector, analysts said.
“Live streaming has always been a 'cash-burning' industry,”
a Douyu executive, who declined to be identified, told Reuters.
“After an industry growth spurt, very few live-streaming
platforms can survive until B round,” the executive said,
referring to the next stage of a company's financing.
Authorities have also clamped down on streaming sites that
provide illegal content, adding to the consolidation risk, said
iResearch analyst Tina Zhang.
In July, China's culture ministry announced that it had shut
down 4,313 online show rooms, firing or punishing more than
18,000 anchors. Twelve platforms, including heavyweights Panda
TV, 6.CN and Douyu, were punished and ordered to make changes
after offering illicit content that “promotes obscenity,
violence, abets crime and damages social morality”.
Still, the prospect of change in the sector hasn’t faded the
hopes of thousands of young Chinese who want to become internet
Jin Xing, the founder of cosmetic surgery app Soyoung, said
he estimates 95 percent of anchors have undergone cosmetic
surgery to improve their looks. The app connects cosmetic
surgery centres with prospective clients.
"Live streaming cannot be faked and cosmetic surgery
increases the chance of getting a virtual gift," said Jin, who
reckons about a fifth of Soyoung customers come from the live
Jing, the Huajiao anchor, said her goal was to become famous
enough as a streaming anchor to open her own online e-commerce
"Using 72 hours of pain in exchange for three to five years
of good looks is totally worthwhile," Jing said following her
(Reporting By Shu Zhang and Matthew Miller; Editing by Neil