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Lessons from China’s Live Stream Bubble

Every few years, China’s tech industry sees a new bubble: a few years ago, it was Groupon-like services; then it was “O2O” (online-to-offline). Now Chinese investors are speaking of a bubble in live streaming apps, which number in the hundreds.

Open any of these—popular ones include Inke or Huajiao—and you’ll likely see a constellation of young women talking, giggling, and singing to the camera on their phones as if taking an extended selfie. The people doing the broadcasting answer viewers’ questions, occasionally perform songs, and entertain an audience whose size ranges from a handful to a thousand. At any time, users can choose from thousands of chat rooms, each with a different host. Some promote their streams on Weibo, a Twitter-like service popular in China.

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Whether live streaming takes off in the U.S. as much as in China is uncertain. Harry Man, a partner at Matrix Partners China, said that live stream’s popularity in China can be explained by the country’s relatively underdeveloped entertainment industry compared with western countries. “This kind of live stream would never become as popular in countries with a more developed economy and entertainment industry,” Mr. Man said.

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