Two months after she was shunned by e-commerce platforms and given a record Rmb1.3 billion ($205.6 million) fine for tax evasion, one of China’s most famous livestreaming hosts Viya is back. Figuratively, if not literally.
Mifeng Jingxi She (which means ‘Honeybee Surprise Club’), a team of six livestreamers who were Viya’s former assistants or models, announced on February 14 that they were going live. According to their official statement, the team has no direct relation with Viya or her company, Qianxun Culture Media. Honeybee is a “self-initiated project”, the team of six claims.
Viya’s fans believe otherwise. The team’s Chinese name appears to be inspired by Viya’s own WeChat account Wei Ya Jingxi She. Honeybee’s debut – from the backdrop to the props to the overall style – also bears striking resemblance to the work of the famous livestreamer. Even Viya’s popular slogan “Don’t waste time on nonsense, let’s draw a prize first” made its way onto Honeybee’s new e-commerce channel.
One merchant told 36Kr that Honeybee’s members have privately made clear that they are “Viya’s team”. All her fans and merchants were also being told that they are “closely linked to Viya”.
Her fans certainly made the association. The first Honeybee livestream drew more than one million viewers on Taobao Live. Five days later, the number of viewers who tuned in reached 11.6 million at its peak, putting Honeybee among the top three most watched livestreamers on the platform. As of Sunday, the team had garnered more than 1.75 million followers on its channel.
One fan told National Business Daily: “They are all from the original cast (of Viya’s assistants). That feeling of familiarity is back.” He also loyally admitted to spending Rmb500 on items that Honeybee were selling on their livestream as a show of support.
Some shoppers were less enthusiastic, complaining that all of the new members were messily talking over each other during the livestream, and that their understanding about the products they were trying to sell was not as thorough as Viya’s.
The emergence of Honeybee has also highlighted one of the worst-kept secrets in China’s e-commerce industry. The most popular influencers, for instance, never work alone but depend on a big team of professionals. And more importantly, the most successful agencies, such as Qianxun, tends to maintain a close and inseparable working relationship with e-commerce platforms as well as all the consumer brands that are offered for sale during the livestreams.
In fact, since 2018, Qianxun has been planning its future after Viya. It has established several subsidiaries, which are now involved in businesses that relate to e-commerce livestreaming such as content production, marketing, supply chain management, e-commerce and intellectual property management.
It has also been nurturing other livestreaming talents like Lin Yilun, Li Jing and Qi Wei. After Viya was mired in the tax scandal, Qianxun quickly pivoted, pouring all of its resources behind these up-and-comers, many of which saw an uptick in viewers. Take Lin for instance, his livestream has gone up from an average of 4.8 million viewers before the scandal to regularly clocking over 7.6 million today.
“It’s not just Qianxun, all MCN [multi-channel network] institutions are forging a new path: they know they can no longer put all their eggs in one basket,” Chen Tao told National Business Daily, adding that to diversify risks most MCN institutions are creating teams of livestreaming hosts, not putting all their resources behind a single star.
However, Qianxun needs a lot of alternate hosts to replace the revenue Viya generated. In 2019, Viya and her rival Li Jiaqi charged anywhere between Rmb20,000 to Rmb50,000 for a promotional slot (depending on the product and the brand). It is believed that the cost of a slot then went up to Rmb80,000 in 2021. On the other hand, lesser-known livestreaming hosts with no more than a million followers usually get paid no more than Rmb4,000 for a slot.
They also have less negotiatiating power when it comes to commissions. NBD reckons that while top livestreamers could receive up to 40% commission after they have reached an agreed sales amount, livestreaming hosts in the mid- to lower-tiers often receive no more than 25% commissions.
Though if there was any speculation that Honeybee’s launch was to pave the way for Viya’s eventual comeback, it was quickly shot down. “There is little hope of a comeback by Viya. Her best career move is to step back and work behind the scenes as an operator and leverage her past advantages to create a livestreaming empire,” says NBD.
Viya’s rival livestreaming host Xue Li, who was also fined for tax evasion and has not been seen publicly since November, has switched tack as well. “Xue Li has moved behind the scene and is responsible for the company’s overall operation,” another industry insider told 36Kr.
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