BEAUTY IN THE FRIDGE

How S’pore’s livestreaming startup BIGO became a profit-making biz with over 400M users

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This Singapore-based app rubbed shoulders with popular video apps YouTube, TikTok, and Tencent Video when it made it as one of the top five social apps in the first half of 2021.

It is none other than livestreaming app Bigo Live. Even though the startup is only five years old, it claims to already have over 400 million users across 150 countries globally.

With more people cooped up at homes due to the pandemic, livestreaming activities grew over the past 18 months, propelling the growth for Bigo.

Bigo’s parent, BIGO Technology is one of Singapore’s fastest-growing tech firms, with more than 30 offices and six research and development centres around the world.

Bigo’s Vice President Mike Ong / Image Credit: Bigo

“Our users span across a variety of genres including e-commerce, gaming, performing arts, comedy, among many others,” said Bigo’s Vice President Mike Ong in an exclusive interview with Vulcan Post.

Mike said that over 500 Bigo Live broadcasters have become superstars over the past year by surpassing one million global fans each.

What does Bigo do?

Founded by David Li and Jason Hu, Bigo Live was launched in March 2016, two years after BIGO Technology was founded. It is a livestreaming app that targets users aged 18 to 25. The user ratio of males to females is around 7:3.

In March 2019, it was bought over by Chinese social media video-based platform Joyy for US$1.5 billion.

The company claimed it turned a profit in 2017 and earned a total revenue of US$300 million that year. Today, the livestreaming app continues to be profitable.

Bigo Live events overseas / Image Credit: Bigo Taiwan

For the second quarter of 2021, Bigo was able to generate US$29.1 million in operating income. Average mobile monthly active users (MAUs) of Bigo rose 0.3 per cent to 29.5 million due to an increase in users outside of India.

Its popularity has however gone hand-in-hand with its reputation for hosting inappropriate content for children, as well as for offensive content. The startup has been assuring that it deploys resources to closely screen content.

India is one country that has pulled Chinese-owned apps like Bigo from the country’s local app stores, citing data and privacy issues. Bigo was also partially blocked in other countries previously, such as Indonesia for nudity content.

The livestreaming era

The livestreaming boom is driving a significant uptick in the creator economy.

A total of 74 billion social apps have been downloaded from 2010 to date, according to a report from data firm App Annie. In just the first half of this year alone, there were 4.7 billion downloads.

Consumers are set to spend US$6.78 billion in social apps in 2021, estimates App Annie. That figure will grow to US$17.2 billion annually by 2025.

Bigo has been riding on the livestreaming economy’s growth spurt. In the first half of 2021, it ranked fifth on global charts by consumer spending, surpassing US$300 million in sales in just six months.

Image Credit: App Annie

This money churning industry is drawing more social media influencers to stream on Bigo, in a bid to gain popularity and earn income at the same time. App Annie notes that Bigo, for example, is enabling broadcasters to earn up to thousands of dollars per month through their livestreams.

Influencers now tap on receiving direct gifts from consumers during their livestreams to earn money. The method of “gifting” has evolved from one-off sticker packs in the past.

Tapping on the new ‘social language’

Social livestreaming is the new era of social media, stressed Bigo’s Mike. 

It is different from traditional streaming sectors, where users simply watch videos from their computers and mobile devices. “Consumers have shifted from a one-way mode of communication towards interactive formats of engaging with other people around the world.” 

In the last ten years, Bigo saw that these changing consumption patterns play a huge factor in the rapid growth of the livestreaming industry, said Mike.

Calling it a new social language, Mike said that the industry allows individuals to showcase their talents and stay connected in a positive and creative environment.

Social media influencers tap on Bigo to share their creative works, engage with fans / Image Credit: Bigo

“We have democratised livestreaming by being a global platform that allows all users and creators around the world to ease their way into hosting livestreaming sessions and elevate themselves to the global stage.”

“It is coupled by the growing creator economy, where social media influencers or content creators look for platforms to share their creative works, engage with fans and build a following.”

Commenting on Bigo’s increase in users, Mike said: “This growth is attributed to more global interest around livestreaming as a way to stay connected, be entertained, and for some, to generate income.”

While other firms like Shopee and Lazada have their own livestreaming services with a focus on e-commerce, Bigo offers a more diverse range of content across a variety of verticals – from cooking, singing, to even gaming – for its users, he said.

Bigo expects to continue to see strong growth in its user base in the near term.

“Our unique strength lies in building a deeply localised social ecosystem together with our local broadcasters in every region where we operate. We have nurtured a community where users can band together to form agencies and lend support to each other as they grow together in strength, passion, talent showcasing, and in community spirit,” said Mike.

“Sexually explicit content”

The app has been trying to shed its old image ever since it drew flak for scantily dressed influencers and sexually explicit videos in the past.

During the app’s early years, it quickly reached the status as the top-grossing social app in Southeast Asia, but it was blocked by the Indonesian IT ministry as its live content violated Indonesia’s strict rules against the display of nudity.

That saga seems to be behind Bigo. For one, users now have to be at least 17 years old to download the app on the Apple and Android stores. A check online shows that the Bigo app is currently downloadable in Indonesia.

“Underage users are strictly not allowed to register on Bigo. This is enforced through age verification during registration,” said Mike.

Bigo also has a zero-tolerance policy against any illegal activities on the platform, he added.

Image Credit: Bigo Live app

“(We have a) 99 per cent success rate in keeping illegal content off our apps. We also have specific community guidelines and penalties in place to ensure that users comply so as to ensure a healthy and harmonious platform for our community. These penalties may range from temporary account suspension to permanent termination of the account,” claimed Mike.

However, a check on its app on Monday (Sept 13) continued to show sexually suggestive videos. Perhaps the appropriateness of how much skin one shows is subjective to individuals, thus proving it unsuitable for youths and those who are more conservative.

Bigo said that it constantly monitors for any illegal activities through its automated technology tools and local content management teams of more than 2,000 staff in 15 regions globally.

The startup added that content management on its platforms is a full-time process and any content that contravenes national laws and policies – even from its highest-performing users – is immediately banned.

Comments from users may often be suggestive, talking about influencers’ looks and body / Image Credit: YouTube

It is also fully committed to providing an inclusive platform for its users all around the world, where they are able to practice their freedom of speech and showcase their talents freely, said Mike.

“The livestreaming industry has seen massive growth over the past few years…The key to this growth is a creator economy where users can recognise creators for their work through “gifts”.”

‘Gifting’ strategy to keep creators on Bigo

Today, creators are on multiple platforms, and they will gravitate towards platforms where they can continue to do what they love and make the most of it. 

On how Bigo stands out among its competitors, Mike said that the platform puts its creators first, with incentive policies and programs to encourage them to produce great content and add value to the Bigo community. 

“Users can send virtual gifts to their favourite broadcasters on livestreams as a form of appreciation. Our multi-guest challenges, real-time chats, and virtual ‘gifting’ feature allow viewers and creators to interact and collaborate with other creators.”

This is the special feature that allows for organic development in the creator ecosystem, he said.

Users can send virtual gifts to their favourite broadcaster / Image Credit: Bigo Live app

“Through these, users can be invested in the platform’s leading broadcasters and vice versa. This is also part of Bigo Live’s ongoing efforts to foster a sense of giving back to creators and setting the bar for the creator economy,” Mike said.

Bigo’s popular livestreaming sessions include “Music Livehouse” a 24-hour livestream featuring singing, dancing, and musical performances. 

Other popular livestreams organised by its broadcasters include balloon sculpting, cosplay, cooking, and even fortune-telling.

Next big thing: Gaming livestreaming

The startup has been going big into gaming, identifying it as a “key focus area”.

It announced the launch of Bigo Live Gaming in August this year, which aims to bring viewers the latest gaming content. The app has a growing ecosystem of over 600 gamers in Malaysia and Singapore.

It offers game streamers that achieve monthly targets additional remuneration based on factors such as content, followers, and time spent broadcasting.

“We have several in-app and offline gaming competitions to boost the viewership of these livestreaming sessions. Some of the popular games that can be streamed on Bigo Live include Mobile Legends: Bang Bang, PlayerUnknown’s Battleground, Fortnite, Call of Duty and Valorant,” said Mike.

Bigo is going big into gaming livestreaming / Image Credit: Bigo, Prnasia

In the last six months, Bigo saw a 40 per cent growth in monthly gaming active users and 84 per cent in average user spent in gaming livestreams. 

The peak concurrent users (PCU) per one livestreaming room over this period reached a high at 124,794 people.

The decision to broadcast e-sports is partly pandemic driven, and Bigo sees this vertical as an untapped opportunity, Mike added.

He cited the Asia E-sports Market Report 2021, which said that e-sports viewership in Asia boomed last year, growing to 618.4 million esports spectators, a 21 per cent increase from 2019. 

According to the report, the industry in the region continues to grow in 2021 and is expected to exceed US$600 million in revenue in Asia alone. 

Amid this new normal, people have been looking at ways to follow their favourite gamers, showcase their skills to the world, and connect with other top gamers.

Bigo is also using its platform to host singers, meet-and-greet sessions / Image Credit: Bigo

Other new livestreaming initiatives on Bigo include collaborations with local celebrities and YouTubers to host meet-and-greet sessions on the platform. 

Bigo recently hosted celebrity sibling duo Benjamin and Narelle Kheng in Singapore, as well as popular Chinese actor Lawrence Wong.

Shopping on Bigo

Earlier this year, Bigo launched its marketplace concept, an initiative to tap on the growing e-commerce industry, another phenomenon accelerated by Covid-19 as more stayed home and some businesses could not open. 

Held on July 30th and August 6th, 2021, ‘Bigo Pasar Malam’ in Malaysia saw over 50 Bigo broadcasters offering products for sale from their own businesses. These products ranged from clothing, snacks, gadgets, accessories, homeware, as well as cosmetic and skincare products.

The latest shopping event in Malaysia saw over 50 broadcasters selling their wares / Image Credit: Bigo

With the introduction of the marketplace concept, Bigo launched a new feature called “Shop” on the Bigo app which users and broadcasters alike can access for an easier and convenient shopping experience. 

“With Bigo Marketplace, we not only want to look after our growing ecosystem of content creators but also provide business owners with an additional platform to generate income and exposure for their businesses,” Bigo said.

As the feature is still new, Bigo hopes to provide a holistic and convenient shopping experience for users that is accessible from the safety and comfort of their own homes.

Growth plans

As Bigo embarks on its next phase of growth, it is focusing on three key areas – pan-entertainment, social livestreaming, and gaming. 

“We have ongoing partnerships with gaming companies, entertainment agencies, and television shows, to help our broadcasters grow and elevate themselves to become the celebrities of tomorrow,” said Mike.

A check on LinkedIn showed that Bigo hires more than 2,200 workers. Although the company is headquartered in Singapore, there’s only more than 50 staff based here. The majority of the staff (more than 800) are shown to be located in China.

Elsewhere, there are around 250 staff in Egypt, more than 170 in Indonesia, and 120 in the US.

Supporting local content creators is Bigo’s “key to success across markets” / Image Credit: Prnasia

It is this localised experience with hiring local workers that according to Mike is Bigo’s “key to success across markets” and rapid growth.

It also relies on artificial intelligence (AI) technology to create hyper-personalised user experiences, he said. “Our AI-based apps feature easy video creation, smooth communication, and streaming capabilities, even for users in emerging markets.”

“This allows Bigo to be uniquely responsive to each individual user and create experiences that are far more personalised and responsive.”


Startup feature stories is a key content pillar for Vulcan Post. You can follow our coverage on startups here.


Featured Image Credit: Prnasia, Bigo

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