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How Will China’s Latest Media, Livestreaming Survive in Challenging Times?

2017-01-12 20:06:38 David Feng

The Internet has made the Chinese much more expressive than anyone can imagine beyond their wildest dreams. The country is home to the Di Bao imperial gazette,the movable type, and of one of the more active livestreaming communities on the Internet.

Lured by the prospect of fame and fortune, many in the younger generation will often prop up a camera and a mic just to talk to their audience. Much of the livestreaming generally happens at home, where especially amongst the younger generation, part of the bedroom's been converted so that it's ready for "primetime".

Informative or Egocentric?

Yours truly actually livestreams on Periscope —and he doesn't have a great big radio station-like microphone at home; instead he goes live in the Great Outdoors (usually at a train station) with his iPhone. Because he's much more into trains than tech these days, he often goes to stations, asks a rail friend to hold his iPhone, launches Periscope, and off he goes, introducing rail stories. He thinks this is a bit more of an "informative" use of livestreaming.

While there are good informative streams on the Chinese Internet as well, the vast majority of these livestreamed shows are rather more egocentric. Some border on the controversial, even suggestive —it's now illegal, for example, to livestream a picture of you eating a banana (for obvious reasons!) —others are simply a lot of angry hot air being let off steam. The urge is on for those who chase solely profits to produce shows which shock as many as possible — in the hope they'll get wider still audiences who will hopefully spoil them with "virtual gifts" (which add to their income). On these livestreaming platforms, viewers can click a button to give monetary rewards which the service provider gets a percentage.

There's also a lot of hot air when it comes to comments being posted during a live show. The number that's shocking are in no way in the minority; the writing on the wall seems to be you only get more attention if your comment shocks.

There's a lot of self-expression going on in terms of livestreaming —and the government's seemingly trying to make sure that it's not taken out of business by a livestreaming service that could potentially threaten its existence.

The War for the Microphone — and Ideology

Hence a whole stream of regulations have now applied for livestreaming, especially if done in Chinese for a local audience based in the People's Republic. You now almost always need a Chinese ID card — good luck if you've something else, as they need an 18-digit Citizen ID number.

Even with Beijing knowing who's behind the cam (and the mic), they can't trust you with "any" kind of content. You risk being blacklisted (or given a lot of hell too) if you've overly political, pornographic, suggestive, or are here to break the law or to start a huge morality crisis.

China seems to think it can solve its multitude of issues simply by enacting new laws and regulations. Sometimes, they work well: upping the number of penalty points taken away has reduced the number of drivers who dare run red lights. Others think it's counter-productive; those who are after the money anyway will simply play it at the boundaries of what's acceptable.

The outright ban for most on doing shows with political content is a sign that Beijing views livestreaming to be of great importance. It's neutralised and removed any ability for livestreamers to concoct their version of the Habermasian public sphere. Of course, as could be "expected" elsewhere, livestreamed porn will probably be axed the moment it's found.

Only time will tell if this newest round of legislation will be tops — or a fatal flop. Right now I seem to lean a little more for the latter. Whilst reasonably shielding us from lewd content is never a bad idea, excessive control using laws, as I see it, often will result in counterproductive results. What's needed is to harness people's interests and quality content so that people benefit from informative content. But that's all good on paper — however, whether this will ever become reality is another issue.

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