With more than 147 million subscribers, Cocomelon has made a fortune from nursery rhymes and children’s songs as the most popular English-language channel on YouTube. MrBeast – created by a man who specialises in stunts and challenges – is not far behind on YouTube with about 110 million subscribers.
That’s impressive: fewer than 10 YouTube channels have amassed more than 100 million subscribers, which would be a huge haul even in China, which boasts the largest netizen population in the world.
In fact, short-video app Douyin has only just celebrated its first v-blogger with more than 100 million followers (although state mouthpiece People’s Daily and broadcaster CCTV both claim to have more than 150 million subscribers on Douyin).
Going by the name of ‘Crazy Xiaoyang’ (which means ‘little Brother Yang’), the 25 year-old in question is from Anhui and started producing short videos in 2015. While some of the most popular personalities on social media have been backed by production teams and even private equity investors, Xiaoyang – his real name is Zhang Qingyang and he operates the account with twin brother Kaiyang who is behind the camera – is very much a self-made star, not a pre-existing celebrity trying to profit from short-video’s appeal.
The twins film the videos with relatively basic equipment but grew the brand by sharing funny pranks Involving family members.
Since February 2018, Xiaoyang has published 122 videos on Douyin, which generally attract more than a million views each. Netizens also took note when he posted news that he had purchased a property in Hefei, the provincial capital of Anhui, for more than Rmb100 million ($14.1 million) to serve as the offices and warehouse of his company’s growing e-commerce business.
Like others before him Xiaoyang has converted his appeal into making livestreaming sales pitches. The v-blogger is already one of the three leading salespeople on Douyin, for instance, joining Oriental Select, a livestream unit set up by New Oriental following Beijing’s crackdown on after-school tutoring services, and Luo Yonghao, who switched to e-commerce livestreaming after the failure of a number of the tech start-ups he had founded.
According to Chanmama data, an average of 36 million people tuned into each of Xiaoyang’s live broadcasts in the past three months, with sales ranging from Rmb25 million to Rmb50 million.
The emergence of stars such as Xiaoyang and Oriental Select’s Dong Yuhui (a former ‘crammer’ teacher) underlines how Bytedance, the parent firm of Douyin, is trying to expand into e-commerce. Alibaba has been the undisputed leader in the sector for years but analysts have been warning that growth in the internet giant’s core business is slowing. Perhaps tellingly, the promotional hype around this month’s Singles’ Day – an online shopping festival held on November 11 every year – has been muted. After a lower-key edition of the shopping fiesta last week, neither Alibaba nor rival JD.com published data on gross merchandise value (GMV) for Singles’ Day on their respective platforms – the first time that has happened in 14 years.
Alibaba only revealed that its GMV topline was “in line” with last year’s figure, while JD.com insisted that its sales had surpassed industry growth rates in setting a new company record, without specifying exact numbers.
One bright spot was the increasing participation of foreign brands and international shoppers. Alibaba was keen to point out that its “Global Shopping Festival” featured more than 290,000 brands from over 90 countries. More than 1,000 foreign brands also enjoyed more than double their previous growth in GMV during the sales season on Tmall Global, its cross-border e-commerce site, it was claimed.
In the meantime, stars on Douyin like Xiaoyang may pivot more into livestreaming sales as a way of cashing in on their fame. It sounds like he is cautious about doing too much of that, however. “I can livestream for hours every day and earn millions. But what’s the point? I would be burnt out and my fans would no longer like me. They would think I’m only doing this for money,” he claimed earlier this year. “My fans come to me for laughs, and that’s what I should focus on.”
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