With over 22 million monthly users, Bigo Live is on a fast rise in India

Representational image   | Photo Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Dimple D’Souza, a fashion designer from Chennai, cannot decide on the perfect eye shadow for her black dress. She settles on a metallic purple and starts her live broadcast. No, she is not on the news; every night, she connects with thousands of her followers on a mobile live streaming app called BIGO LIVE. “What song should I dance to first?” she asks and, messages with suggestions and virtual gifts pop up almost instantly.

At the BIGO Awards Gala 2020 held on January 15 in Singapore, Dimple bagged the third prize in the top regional host category. “I’ve been on this app for three years and I have nearly five million followers. They send me virtual gifts which I can encash later, as my Google Pay is connected to the app,” she explains. Dimple tells me that the app helps her earn at least five to 10 lakh every month. To make things clearer, she asks: “Guys! Send me some gifts. Let my friend here see how it works.” A family shield pops up on the screen. One fan under the alias Redbull has sent her the gift. A sword is worth ₹1,400 and she earns ₹1,000 from it. The most expensive virtual gift Redbull has sent is a luxury yacht that costs him about ₹56,000 and she earns ₹39,999.

Who’s on it?
  • BIGO LIVE has over 22 million monthly active users and Nagesh Banga, deputy country manager of BIGO LIVE, explains that it is more popular in Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities. He adds that the users are located across the country with the exception of a few South Indian cities.
  • From passing time and making friends to sharing a slice of their life, each user has a different motivation for watching and participating in live streams.
  • “BIGO LIVE helps content creators not just become famous but also earn an income. The support given by followers to these content creators/broadcasters is tremendous. This kind of monetisation is missing on short video apps,” adds Nagesh.

Unlike sending direct cash, these gifts are seen more as a fun, casual exchange, a celebration for the sender and receiver. The app has no direct link to these transactions and the data resides with the payment gateways providers.

According to ‘You Watch, You Give, and You Engage: A Study of Live Streaming Practices in China,’ by Zhicong Lu et al, presented at the 2019 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, more than 60% of the studied users reported sending paid gifts.

Dimple’s top sender, who goes by the ID Nitesh Agarwal, a business owner in Gujarat, has spent over ₹2 lakhs on her over the years. He justifies this spending, “She is a talented person. If I go out to the movies or the mall, I would end up spending the same amount there. Here, I sit at home and am entertained every day after my daily job.”

Safety and big picture

Like most other social networks, BIGO LIVE has strict community guidelines, and much of the content flowing through the system is moderated by in-app Artificial Intelligence, which scans for obscenity, pornography, graphic images, gambling, terrorism, under-age usage. “Individually, within each segment, there are ways to ensure that AI is compliant and in-line with the local laws and culture,” explains Mike Ong, Vice President, Government Relations, BIGO, in an email to The Hindu.

Screenshot from the BIGO Live App

Screenshot from the BIGO Live App   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

Dr Manoj Sharma, who runs the SHUT Clinic, a technology de-addiction centre in Bengaluru’s NIMHANS, says, “These live-streaming apps are relatively new and we don’t have much empirical data to suggest if the streamers spend additional time on the app to make extra money and get a few more followers.”

In 2019, the Madras High Court briefly had TikTok pulled from app stores as it was criticised for inappropriate content and also pointed out for lack of safety to children. “Many video streaming apps feature suggestive content posted by young women to gain eyeballs. This may promote further objectification of women. However, we cannot police the choices of adult women,” explains Devdutta Mukhopadhyay, associate counsel, the Internet Freedom Foundation. “To promote women’s well-being, we should focus on data protection principles such as informed consent, purpose limitation and right to erasure. Further, women should be granted more control over who can view and share their content, and some social media platforms have developed technical features to facilitate this.”

“Freedom of speech and expression is a fundamental right, and in as much as it does not violate others’ right to privacy or is not obscene, no one can object to it. This right includes expressions through videos or such live-streaming apps. The duty of the state will have to be to protect this right as far as possible,” adds advocate and women’s rights activist Sudha Ramalingam.

Nagesh Banga, deputy country manager of BIGO LIVE, concludes that the company sees great potential in the future.

The writer was at the BIGO Awards Gala 2020, Singapore, at the invitation of BIGO LIVE.

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Printable version | Feb 28, 2021 9:32:11 AM |

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