Chinese live-streaming app Bigo Live is a platform engaging and promoting small town young talent for becoming the next ‘Bollywood Star’ while earning a quick buck. But what is this all about? Is this a secure opportunity or there’s a darker side to this?
The internet is littered with porn cam operations but this is perhaps the first time that a desi market has opened up. A simple search for ‘Bigo Live girls’ in India on YouTube throws up hundreds of videos, showing explicit content.
What’s the App all about?
- Bigo Live has set up a sprawling network of 10,000 paid broadcasters in India
- It offers multi-guest live streams too where viewers can join hosts
- Many of the hosts are young women who dance, sing, strip or talk dirty to millions of Indian men
- India accounts for as many as 60 million of the application’s 200 million registered users worldwide
- As per a market research firm report, about half a million of these users are active on a daily basis
- There seems to be some level of policing–hosts and comments do get banned
Bigo Live’s application carries this warning:
“Vulgarity, porn, indecent exposure or any copyright infringement is not allowed and will be banned. Live Broadcasts are monitored 24 hours a day.”
However, some of the content appears to be contradicting these disclaimers:
- One broadcast shows a woman on a bed in a nightdress being watched by about 2,080 people online,sending virtual gifts and making various demands of a sexual nature
- On another channel, a woman wearing a white nightgown is lip-syncing to a raunchy Bollywood song
How Does this Work?
- Bigo Live on its blog said unlike platforms such as YouTube, which leave content creation up to their users, it plays an active role in defining what goes up on its apps
- It designs training modules which the agencies pass on to the hosts. This involves lighting techniques, camera angles, and advice on how to divide time between fans
- The prospective hosts must pass an interview to receive income from the company on a regular basis.
The organisation claims:
“For a person who is looking for both money and fame, Bigo Live is the apt platform. Aspiring models and actors are switching over to Bigo Live from other platforms such as Instagram and YouTube owing to the better payout structure.”
Even when one doesn’t use the app, it pushes notifications — like “I’m waiting for you”, “I want to call you” — decorated with hearts, kisses, and pictures of girls.
Do Indian Laws Permit Such Platforms?
- Section 292 of the Indian Penal Code and Sections 67 and 67A of the Indian IT Act deal with obscenity
- In the offline world, the law only prohibits obscenity
- Online, the publication and transmission of sexually explicit material is further singled out, and made punishable
- It is punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine of Rs 10 lakhs
The ministries of home affairs and electronics and IT were contacted by The Economic Times, however, they did not respond to queries.
Bigo Live recruits hosts through a web of 300 agencies that look for candidates in small cities and towns and train them on multiple aspects of broadcasting.
The virtual gifts range from Rs 70 to Rs 6,400. Although, it is not known how this amount is split between host and platform. The company claims, in its recruitment ads, that hosts can earn up to Rs 1 lakh per month, depending on meeting targets on followers, gifts and so on. They also receive a fixed salary from the company.
ET’s investigation into Bigo Live’s strategy to recruit small-town hosts on the platform found multiple job postings on LinkedIn and obscure job sites such as talentnext.com, talenttrack.in and learn4good.com.
A LinkedIn post stated six months back:
“BIGO LIVE: We need open-minded and talkative female candidates for voice chatting broadcasting app who want to show their talents to the world and also want to become famous along with earning money from 7K to 100K per month.”
Another post on LinkedIn sought to hire recruiters to get talent for live streaming, promising a Rs 1,000 reference fee, 10% management fee and 5% Beans (in-app purchase) for every referred talent.
“Attractive voice”, able to do “healthy flirting” and find topic to talk about “love and relation” were some of the listed criteria.
A person familiar with the matter also stated that the app is actively scouting talent through Social Media as well:
“They scout for hosts on Facebook, Instagram, modelling, singing, dancing and acting agencies. Bigo Live’s marketing team has different ways to generate data about these agencies.”
In 2017, when Bigo Live started its expansion in India, it held auditions for broadcasters at JW Marriott Hotel in Mumbai, Pune, New Delhi, and Bengaluru.
Payments from Viewers
Viewers—all apparently male—are sometimes asked to make Rs 100 transfers through Paytm to see an item of clothing discarded. Comments often turn lewd, although broadcasters can mute followers.
Company’s Official Stance
Bigo Live’s deputy country manager for India, Nagesh Banga, told ET the platform conducts its business strictly in accordance with local laws, regulations and customs. It has 200 employees in India as of now, out of which around 150 are dedicated to 24X7 content and comment moderation, helped by a recently upgraded artificial intelligence system, he said.
“We will never allow any illegal content to appear on our platform. Bigo has always been highly reactive in dealing with harmful content and information. We are determined to provide a green and healthy Internet environment on our platform for every Indian family and for our users,” Banga told ET.
Banga said Bigo Live wants to combine entertainment content with Indian local culture and flavour and push its broadcasters onto the mainstream platforms.
“Our aim is to groom the next Bollywood star via Bigo apps to enrich the local entertainment industry and culture. Most of these broadcasters come from tier 3 & tier 4 towns, and their earnings are much higher than any standard 9-5 job offered in these cities,” Banga said.
Parent Bigo Technology is registered in Singapore and it is owned by Nasdaq-listed Chinese company YY Inc. It plans to invest $100 million in India in the next three years and create 1,000 jobs, marking the Indian market its top priority.