Headquartered in Beijing, Xiaomi, a tech start-up co-founded by Lei Jun in 2010 and also known as China’s Apple, is well and truly on its way to become the next Internet giant after Baidu, Alibaba and Tencent (BAT). The former Google exec Hugo Barra worked for Xiaomi as VP Global for three years and left in Jan 2017.
When walking through the jungle of skyscrapers in Beijing, surrounded by the myriad lights of the city, you may feel shocked, simply by the scale and pace of modernisation happening here. What’s more, the modernisation has gone far beyond the borders of construction and infrastructure, and has ventured into a wide range of fields, including mobile and Internet. Mobile live broadcasting, another revolution in the mobile space, has unfolded itself at the speed of light.
Beijing CBD. Source: Flickr
In the age of “everyone is media”, a new lifestyle with exciting experiences has come into being, that is, free broadcasting – anytime, anywhere, and to anyone. This new lifestyle has expanded into vast and diverse markets, and is showing promising signs that it will shake up and shape all the existing social media platforms plus TV & broadcasting businesses.
Whether you watch football matches, attend music concerts, or go out for sightseeing trips, you will not feel content with posting photos and videos on existing social media platforms anymore. You want more – the power to fully express yourself, to share the excitements and the moments in real-time, and to report your news as it happens.
Now, a company based in Beijing, known as Beijing Wali Network Technology, has turned this idea into reality by developing an application called Mi Live. This App has it all: social, mobile, live (i.e, real-time video streaming), and, best of all, it’s free. Mi Live would have not gone live without receiving serial investments led by Lei Jun, who made an initial offer in 2009.
Below I’d like to shed some light on how mobile live broadcasting works and why it works based on my knowledge and experiences.
“Mobile Live Broadcasting” vs “TV Live Broadcasting”
When I started my career at Tianjin TV in 1997, live broadcasting was TV station’s privilege, and was carried out by a dedicated department. It involves using equipment such as microwave transceivers – with the size and weight of PCs back then. Twenty years later, everyone can do live broadcasting, on their palms, by using a smartphone.
Mobile live broadcasting (MLB) uses “smartphones” as opposed to “professional video cameras and TVs” for sending and receiving streaming video in real-time. Instead of using dedicated TV networks, mobile live broadcasting leverages the internet as its transmission network provided by telecom carriers such as “AT&T and Verizon” in the US, “Telstra and Optus” in Australia, “China Mobile, China Telecom and China Unicom” in China, and “Airtel and Vodafone” in India.
While a TV broadcasting network is centralised, a mobile live broadcasting network is distributed in nature – thanks to the Internet. A mobile App such as “Mi live” empowers anyone to broadcast from anywhere – not confined to a particular region or country. In addition, mobile live broadcasting is interactive – giving people the power and the freedom to comment, to like, to follow, and to tip (sending virtual gifts which can be redeemed later).
A drawback of MLB, however, is that for large and formal events, its broadcasting capabilities are not comparable to TLB in terms of quality and scale. However, this weakness is compensated by the low cost of advertising using MLB apps. You can launch free MLB advertising campaigns instead of paying for astronomical TV advertising costs.
The Business Models of Mobile Live Broadcasting
Below I’d like to point out a few directions coupled with examples to illustrate how companies can steer their MLB platforms towards creating, delivering and capturing values.
a) MLB platforms connect “consumers” with “content creators” directly.
Content creators (e.g. journalists, musicians and comedians) can use MLB platforms to broadcast real-time news, interviews, performances and shows – directly to world-wide audiences – and seek feedback via “online chat room style” messaging. If the presentations are very good, the presenters can receive tipping from the audiences around the world. In case you miss a show, don’t worry – it will be stored in the cloud for replay at any time.
In this regard, MLB is fundamentally different from streaming media platforms such as Youtube, Netflix and Spotify whose audiences are connected directly with “content” rather than “content creators”.
b) MLB platforms connect “consumers” with “service providers” directly.
For example, customer service representatives use MLB platforms to connect with customers – “face to face” – for Q&A sessions. Another example is that tour guides use MLB platforms to broadcast sightseeing trips on the fly. Speaking of which, Airbnb and Uber use the same model to connect travellers with landlords and taxi drivers respectively.
c) MLB platforms connect “buyers” with “sellers” directly.
For example, sales and marketing professionals use MLB platforms to illustrate key product features to the public for “direct selling”. Another example is real-time auctions via MLB platforms. Now here is a question: will the success of eBay, Amazon and Alibaba be emulated by a new MLB startup?
Mi Live has gone hugely popular within a few months after its launch in 2016. This success is a small testament to China’s fast progress on tech and mobile products. What is more important, is that it is a testament to the successful application and leveraging of the “Silicon Valley Model” – “Potential” unlocked by “Capital”.
In the age of “everyone is media”, mobile live broadcasting is a new lifestyle, a disruptive paradigm – not the “icing on the cake”. It reinvents broadcasting, social media and how we obtain information. It empowers you to learn, to earn, and to succeed by unlocking your potential.
To achieve the so called “Built to Last” mission, MLB companies will need to focus on the vitality of its ecosystem, which relies heavily on the quality of its content. The content should be entertaining, educating, and enlightening for society at large. At this stage, it is unclear whether Xiaomi will gain something from “something ventured”. As MLB is new and disruptive, a set of rules, regulations, and policies need to be developed accordingly. The future is uncertain, so is Xiaomi’s venture.