Hao Wu’s compelling documentary, “People’s Republic of Desire”, is a riveting journey through the multi-faceted components of China’s rapidly expanding live streaming scene. It provides a comprehensive exploration of the various players that drive China’s burgeoning live streaming industry.
The film portrays a dystopian world that leverages today’s technological ubiquity to exploit the increasing isolation and loneliness of young people that is further exacerbated by the digitization of social interaction. The live streaming phenomenon encourages a new form of modern escapism that just requires a smartphone, through which fans can live vicariously through the hosts they choose to support. These streamers become icons of success, representing their fans in a virtual colosseum, battling each other for attention, and the unfathomable sums of money that come with it. They are beacons of hope for people who may be unsatisfied with their current life situation. As the wealth gap in Chinese society grows, increased competition combined with dwindling opportunities for social mobility results in many disillusioned young people who are burdened with a yearning for recognition and belonging.
Consequently, millions of fans support performers who they identify with, creating a sense of kinship. The relationship between these hosts and their loyal fans is exceptionally strong, with many fans donating considerable percentages of their incomes to support their favorite hosts, while consistently tuning into live shows and donating with an almost religious zeal. In essence, fans congregate together creating an almost cult-like atmosphere, centered around their shared admiration for their favorite streamer. It is important to note that this live streaming content is free to consume, and these donations or gifts are entirely voluntary, motivated by the desire to belong.
However, this is not simply a story of an internet celebrity being worshipped by millions of economically disadvantaged youths, who are commonly referred to as “diaosi”. In addition to these millions of diaosi fans, there are “tuhao”, who are extremely wealthy individuals who will spend massive sums on hosts to gain the attention and adoration of the legions of average fans. Most YY users can only dream of flaunting such affluence in front of millions. Often these “tuhao” individuals will spend more in one day than what many users earn in a year, and this gives them an immense sense of achievement and satisfaction.
With all the money circulating through these showrooms, everyone wants a slice of the profits. The company who has pioneered this vast live streaming ecosystem, YY, splits profits with the performers in what has matured into an astoundingly profitable business. Listed on NASDAQ, YY reported a 36% year-over-year growth in total net revenues for the full year of 2018, totaling nearly $2.3 billion. YY does more than just facilitate these interactions through its online platform. Cultivating the next generation of successful streamers is integral to YY’s business model, as they sponsor many offline events designed to augment the fame of their top performers. Da Bao, a talent manager for YY, is tasked with training and grooming these streamers to give them the best possible chance to be successful. The YY Annual Competition generates unprecedented amounts of money over the course of two weeks, as fans save up to purchase votes for their favorite streamer, with the hope of propelling them to the #1 spot. Following the votes, the hosts are then paraded out at a red carpet celebration event that seeks to cement the online fame of winning performers in the real world.
Hao Wu’s production quality in “People’s Republic of Desire” is excellent, and establishes a complete picture of the ecosystem as he profiles the perspectives of the hosts, the fans and YY. Ultimately, YY satisfies the craving for human interaction that many isolated young people feel, providing them with an outlet for socializing in the virtual universe. This phenomenon is surely a precursor for the increasing digitization of human interaction, and it is no surprise that it has blossomed in a nation that is quick to adapt and implement the newest technologies. Through developing a new form of entertainment, YY has proven its capacity for innovation, creating immense value from user-generated content. For those interested in the digital revolution, “People’s Republic of Desire” is a must-watch providing valuable insight into yet another instance of how technology can fundamentally alter how we live.
Featured photo credit to www.desire.film