Baidu’s Douyu TV is marketed as a game live streaming site akin to Twitch.tv. But unlike Twitch, the site has a surprising number of videos that have little to do with video games.

A number of Douyu channels are operated by young camgirls—online hostesses, to use the hormone economy term—who entertain their followers with pretty faces and teasing conversation while enticing them to buy virtual gifts that convert into real cash.

While the webcam shows generally maintain a girl-next-door vibe with performances limited to singing, dancing and casual conversation, increasing competition is driving some women to explore more risque entertainment.

Guo Mini, a Douyu webcam model, made Internet news on February 25 for live streaming a strip show to her channel. Although she and her agency said the video was obtained by someone who hacked into her webcam, the performance is changing opinions about the innocence of this fledgling industry.

Chain Behind Screen

Webcam modeling—even in its non-nude form—is rarely an industry that leaves its participants short on money, and online hostesses are no exception. Hardworking channel operators with a number of followers can earn between 10,000 and 100,000 yuan per month.

Ding Yao, whose channel has 480,000 followers, is a 23-year-old law major who found her way into the industry after posing for a magazine spread. A friend at a talent agency told her that webcam models in South Korea were earning 1 million yuan per month with their shows.

Ding at first was hesitant to take up camming. During her first week online, she was criticized by her agent for “not communicating enough with her online followers.” Since then, she adjusted her style and won a large following. Her peak show drew more than 600,000 viewers who were eager to watch her change into expensive clothes she bought from South Korea.

“My followers are mainly young men who are very vain,” Ding said in an interview with Paper.cn. “The rest are just people who want to hit on a young and beautiful model.”

Ding’s salary comes primarily from virtual gifts purchased on the streaming platform. The top selling item, rockets, cost 500 yuan each. The platform and agency each take a cut of the sale before passing the remainder to Ding. She thanks her followers by name and blows them kisses after each purchase.

On live streaming sites such as YY, followers spend heavily on their favorite models in hopes of getting a private nude chat.

“What the followers really care about is whether a girl has a hot body,” Ding says. She has taken up pole dancing to stay in shape. But Ding’s real dream is to break into mainstream entertainment like some of the celebrities with whom she has posed for photos.

A number of companies offer training for new models pursuing a career as an online hostess.

“They help arrange music and dance classes for girls who pass the interviews,” Zhao, director of Junhe Brand Management, told Paper.cn. “Next, they teach them about lighting, their appearance, the rules for each platform and how to encourage rich followers to blow their money.”

Zhao said most women interested in becoming an online hostess are either college students or young women in the big city who lack a stable job.

Uncontrolled Business

Wang Jingyi, an analyst from iResearch, says 68 percent of the viewers are between the ages of 19 and 35, and the male-to-female viewer ratio is 4-1.

“In 2016, the total number of cam show viewers may reach 100 million,” Wang said. The rapidly growing industry remains almost completely free of controls.

On January 11, Douyu TV carried the stream of a couple who were having sex on camera. Many reports have focused on the hostesses who pose nude to win followers to their channels, making the industry a little too close to a venue for personalized porn.

To counter these reports, many streaming site operators have assembled teams of content monitors who review accounts that contain flagged keywords or a suspicious number of followers. Streams that grow too quickly are suspected of sharing pornographic content and flagged for ongoing monitoring.

Their effectiveness remains questionable.

“How can a team made up of several people monitor thousands of live channels?” said Ma Weimin, an editor at Huxiu.com. Ma said the live nature of the content makes it extremely difficult for website operators to manage.

What Next

Foreign Policy summarized online hostesses as the latest branch in China’s growing “hormone economy,” a phenomenon that “will continue to rage as the country’s single young men seek online what they sometimes lack in the real world: young women, social approval and self-esteem,” it wrote.

Unlike the seedy world of sexually explicit webcams found in the US and Europe, Chinese cam sites follow a model that began with Afreeca TV in South Korea. Although the platform also hosts video game broadcasts, TV steams and daily video blogs, it’s better known for it’s legion of Broadcast Jockeys—BJs—who appear on camera to dance provocatively or pose in lingerie.

“We have round 60 supervisors in our company to monitor the streams 24/7,” said Hong, the director of Afreeca TV. “If any channels are found to be live streaming pornography, we block the hostess from appearing on our website again.”

In addition to satisfying young men, the Chinese cam show industry is seen as reflecting the growth of vulgar content in China’s entertainment industry.

“Online streaming sites are basically where a group of lonely people get together and amuse themselves to death,” said B12, a blogger on Baidu Baijia. Huang Yan, an author on Voc.com, said the popularity of webcam shows reflects the country’s greater lack of quality entertainment.

Many are calling on the streaming site operators to be more judicious in their supervision of content.

“It’s not just a job for Internet managers, but for police, news publishing agencies and media companies,” says Gu Zuqian, a lawyer at Swordlake Law Firm.

“Many websites are not willing to control their content because it would mean less money,” said Wang Yu, vice president of Neo TV. “But it’s only temporary. I hope there will be more severe measures to control the industry. We have a long road of development ahead of us.”

Karena Hu

About Karena Hu

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Karena was born with the English name Karen but decided to add an “a.” She dreamed of a career in astronomy, but bad scores in physics kept her out of the science department. She seeks other worlds in reading and writing and is a super fan of the Hunger Games trilogy.

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