More likely than not, you’ve never heard of BIGO Live. But it’s one of the largest live streaming apps in APAC with around 400 million users across 150 countries.
Launched in Singapore in 2016, BIGO Live now ranks No. 6 globally for downloads, ahead of Disney Plus and Twitch, according to Apptopia data for January through March. Roughly 23 million people use BIGO Live on a monthly basis.
Think of BIGO Live as a sort of hybrid of Twitch and YouTube, but more of a social network than either of those two platforms. Streamers broadcast live videos of themselves doing everything from singing to cooking to stand-up comedy, and are rewarded with digital gifts that their fans buy using virtual currency.
BIGO Live makes the majority of its revenue – roughly $40.2 million in the first quarter – from in-app purchases.
“We’re very new to some people around the world, but we’ve developed a very strong following,” said Mike Ong, BIGO’s VP of government relations.
But success is not without controversy. In late June, India banned BIGO Live, TikTok and 57 other apps developed by Chinese companies over security concerns. Less than a month later, Pakistan followed suit. The ban in Pakistan was lifted on July 30 after a meeting between a BIGO executive and the Pakistan Telecommunication Authority. The India ban still stands, although BIGO is engaged in active discussions with India’s Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology.
AdExchanger caught up with Ong.
AdExchanger: How is BIGO Live different from other livestreaming platforms, such as Twitch, for example?
MIKE ONG: The main thing we aim to offer is the ability for people to broadcast to fans and followers in real time. We want them to be able to share live moments, to showcase their talents and interact with other people around the world. Social interaction becomes even more important when movements are restricted as they are now.
Over the past four years, our users have created very strong communities, nearly families, where they share their common interests through video-based, real-time streaming, as opposed to textual interactions.
What sets us apart, though, is the massive focus that BIGO Technologies, our parent company, has on artificial intelligence. They have nearly 1,000 AI engineers.
How do you use AI?
We have hundreds of thousands of filters that people can use to interact with streamers in real time as well as to exchange virtual currency.
We also emphasize trust and security. We have a complex content management system that allows us to understand what is being streamed live so we can meet the various different local laws around the world. We review 300 million broadcasts on a daily basis with 99.9% accuracy in detecting nudity, violence and other problematic content. When we do detect something, we can end the stream in our system almost immediately. We also use AI, including facial recognition technology and body size, to identify whether a user is underage.
What is the most common type of content that people livestream on BIGO?
It varies from market to market. Gaming as a category, for example, is definitely growing, but in Indonesia, the most popular content genre is actually ghost hunting. In the Middle East, one of the biggest things is live streams of people just chit chatting for almost 12 hours a day.
Singing is very popular. We have examples of people from small villages who were spotted on the app, became mini celebrities and even got signed by music labels. Some very popular influencers in Japan and Korea still use BIGO Live, because that is where they first started.
How long do people consume content on BIGO, on average?
The global average is around 15 minutes to half an hour daily.
How do streamers make money?
We don’t have advertising on BIGO Live. We’d rather focus on encouraging interactions than on ads. The in-app currency helps us gamify the experience. People can purchase virtual gifts for as little as $1 to reward their favorite hosts with unicorns flashing across the screen or words of encouragement that appear when a singer is live.
How are you planning to crack the US market?
The US is a very important market for us, and in the coming months we’ll have activities and partnerships with influencers, especially gaming influencers.
We’re also working on a series of opportunities to help people who are dealing with unemployment come on the platform to supplement their income.
Any interesting trends you’ve seen emerge during the pandemic?
Over the past few months, we’ve noticed ecommerce companies looking at livestreaming as a way to sell their products.
In Singapore in particular, for example, there is a growing phenomenon where people are turning to livestreaming platforms to sell food items: Fish, vegetables – and even Durian fruit.
This interview has been edited and condensed.