As livestreaming continues to rise as one of the most popular forms of e-commerce in Southeast Asia, tech companies are increasingly integrating live selling features into their apps. The latest example is Bigo Live—a livestreaming platform owned by Nasdaq-listed Chinese firm Joyy—which recently launched a digital marketplace in Malaysia.
Bigo Marketplace aims to help local micro, small, and medium enterprises increase brand exposure and facilitate sales conversions through livestreaming, the company said. The feature is currently in its beta stage and is only available to registered users, broadcasters, and vendors. Users of Bigo Live can access the marketplace through a new section called “Shop” on the app.
Livestream shopping, or livestream e-commerce, is one of the new motors of growth for Bigo Technology, the company that operates Bigo Live. The firm also targets gaming, and pan-entertainment (multi-level products developed from intellectual property, such as games, anime, drama, films, and fiction) as the other two key verticals going forward.
Live commerce is growing in popularity thanks to its highly engaging model that allows creators to interact with audiences in real-time. Consumers across the world are estimated to spend USD 6.78 billion on social apps in 2021, according to a report by analytics platform App Annie. This is driven by livestreaming, and the figure is projected to grow to USD 17.2 billion annually by 2025.
“Bigo Marketplace was launched after we successfully held our first e-commerce online event, Bigo Pasar Malam, in July. During the event, users were able to participate in livestream sales sessions simulating the Malaysian night market experience,” Bigo’s vice president Mike Ong told KrASIA. He added that 100 broadcasters participated in Bigo Pasar Malam’s first e-commerce campaign.
Bigo Live follows the playbook of TikTok, which tapped into e-commerce with its TikTok Shop feature introduced in April in Indonesia. Major e-commerce platforms like Shopee, Lazada, and Tokopedia have also recently added livestreaming functions to their platforms.
“With the rise of e-commerce, consumers are overwhelmed by the available options, and there is a noticeable shift towards brands that showcase authenticity. Livestreaming can help brands build loyalty within communities, increase their fan base, highlight new products and services, and shorten conversion time between browsing and buying,” Ong said.
Ong didn’t disclose whether the company will bring the new e-commerce feature to markets beyond Malaysia, but it is likely that Bigo will expand e-commerce functions in other countries.
Bigo Technology was founded in 2014 in Singapore by Li Xueling, chairman of video-based social media platform Joyy (formerly known as YY), and Jason Hu, one of the first engineers at Joyy. The two wanted to replicate the lucrative revenue model of livestreaming that Joyy enjoyed in China and decided to launch Bigo Live in 2016. The platform targeted international markets, with a particular focus on Southeast Asia.
Bigo Live had a bumpy start in Indonesia and Malaysia, two countries with strict anti-pornography rules. The platform’s content was partially blocked in 2016 by the Indonesian IT Ministry, which said the app was posting “vulgar” content. The following year, Bigo Live’s service returned in full in Indonesia, but faced severe scrutiny from the Malaysian Communications and Multimedia Commission for the same reason.
Despite this, Bigo Live experienced positive development in other markets, garnering 150 million users worldwide by 2017. The app also turned profitable the same year, bringing total revenue of USD 300 million. In 2019, Joyy, which already owned 31.7% of Bigo Technology, purchased the remaining 68.3% stake from shareholders, including Li Xueling, in a USD 1.45 billion deal. In February, Li, who’s also the CEO of Joyy, took over the daily management of Bigo, according to news outlet LatePost.
What makes Bigo Live stand out among other social apps is that it allows users to earn money on the app. Followers of livestreaming sessions can send virtual gifts called “beans” to livestreamers, who can then exchange them for cash. At the present exchange rate, 210 “beans” can be traded for 1 US dollar.
Currently, Bigo Live has a presence in over 150 countries and regions worldwide. The platform is the second highest grossing non-game Chinese app in overseas markets, second only to ByteDance’s TikTok. The company also manages short video app Likee, one of TikTok’s fastest growing rivals.
Bigo Live offers a diverse range of content across various verticals, including music, gaming, outdoors, cooking, and social commerce. One of the most popular programs on the platform is Music Livehouse, a 24-hour livestream event featuring singing, dancing, and other musical performances. The firm also runs talent search programs Bigo Live Star Academy in Indonesia and Bigo’s Got Talent in Vietnam and Thailand.
Ong stressed that the platform has a zero-tolerance policy against illegal or inappropriate activities. The company works with local governments and law enforcement agencies to ensure a safe and trusted environment for its users, said Ong.
“We constantly monitor for illegal activities through our automated technology tools and local content management teams of more than 2,000 staffers in 15 regions globally. We have reached a 99% success rate in keeping illegal content off our apps.”
The company’s flagship app, Bigo Live, is seeing strong growth in its user base, said Ong. During the first quarter of 2021, more than 17% of active users hosted livestreaming sessions, and the average time spent in multi-user audio chat and video rooms increased by 9.7% and 16.1%, respectively, compared to the previous quarter. The conversation rate between user and streamer, which measures the exchange of messages between the two parties, increased by 11.2% in Q1.
In the second quarter of 2021, Bigo Live recorded 29.5 million average monthly active users (MAUs) worldwide. The livestreaming app continues to be profitable and accounted for 90% of Joyy’s revenue in the fourth quarter of 2020. “Geographically, we have maintained our well-diversified goals and have observed our regional revenue grow by 47.6% year-on-year. Revenue from Southeast Asia, in particular, grew by 31.7% in Q2,” Ong said.
The world is entering a “new era of social media” with the rise of livestreaming as more users shift to video-first social experiences that favor creators, Ong said. “We have noticed a shift towards authentic experiences as users enjoy more ‘virtual’ social relationships that bind the community together instead of professionally produced content.”
Gaming as another vertical
“Gaming is another key focus area for the platform. We hold several in-app and offline gaming competitions to boost viewership in the gaming segment.” Some popular games that can be streamed on Bigo Live include Mobile Legends: Bang Bang, PlayerUnknown’s Battleground, Fortnite, Call of Duty, and Valorant,” said Ong.
The platform has observed a 40% growth in MAUs and a 74% rise in the average time that users spent on gaming content in the second quarter worldwide. Indonesia, Vietnam, and Thailand have emerged as the top countries in terms of livestreamed gaming, according to Ong.
Bigo Technology plans to continue its expansion into gaming and pan-entertainment via exclusive partnerships. “We have ongoing programs with gaming companies, entertainment agencies, and television shows to help our broadcasters grow and elevate themselves to become the celebrities of tomorrow,” said Ong.
“Our mission is to build a trusted and safe social livestreaming platform for everyone. Bigo Live empowers our users to find their own voice, and most importantly, showcase their talents and content to a global audience, fueling the creator economy. This ensures the long-term sustainable growth of our social entertainment ecosystem.”