In an exclusive interview, the BIGO Live team speaks about the growth of live-streaming in the region amid pandemic, how it is turning to be a great revenue generator for brands, and the focus the company has for 2021
How was 2020 for the industry and your company?
At the beginning of 2020, before most parts of the world were compelled to shelter in place, live streaming was on a growth path and projected to account for 82% of all Internet traffic by the end of the year. The lockdown period further contributed to significant growth in usage statistics.
Twitch, a platform used by video gamers to live-stream gaming sessions, reported that hours watched on the platform grew 50% between March and April this year. Here in the MENA region, Bigo Live, a live streaming platform launched in Singapore in 2016 and available regionally since 2017, has reported that it now has around 5 million monthly active users (MAUs) just in the Middle East & North Africa region alone.
Live streaming is now a big revenue generator for brands as well as for established and emerging influencers. Globally, live streaming is predicted to generate USD 70.5 billion of revenue in 2021 and USD 184 billion by 2027.
What sort of opportunities did 2020 bring along?
Although 2020 proved to be quite a challenging year, it did create a number of opportunities for content creators and tech-savvy talent in the MENA region.
With many countries going into lockdown and restrictions placed on social interactions, many people began to spend more time online and in particular their mobile devices. Because of this, these individuals discovered a new way to consume content and also found joy and a new way to express themselves as content creators.
People who opted to stay indoors could explore the world around them through the lens of content creators who were abiding by the safety guidelines set forth by their respective countries.
In addition, BIGO Technology continues to invest in its capabilities and talent across the world. During 2020, we continued to invest to recruit individuals from across the MENA region to enhance our local operations by hiring more people in different countries across the MENA region that include: Egypt, Jordan, UAE, and other countries. The purpose of this is to help us understand the local user more by having stronger localized operations.
In Egypt, we are going to hire up to 1,000 (from currently 300 as of July 2020) people by the end of the year. The reason is that we want to enhance our content safety in this country. Jordan is one of our main offices in the MENA region and there is a lot of exceptional talent in the country. This is why we are planning to hire up to 200 people by the end of 2020.
Our objective at Bigo Live is not only to hire people but to provide individuals living in the region with opportunities to further enhance and enrich their lives. This includes content creators such as vloggers, broadcasters, etc. that can leverage our platform to create opportunities for themselves with reputable organizations wherever they may be. Currently, we have created approximately 35,000 job opportunities in the region.
The technology of Bigo Live empowers users to create social value for people in society. Our primary objective is to enable our broadcaster to create value for humanity as opposed to just financial values.
Did you face any challenges in 2020?
In the past year, we all faced exceptional challenges brought forth by the pandemic which impacted global companies and in turn people both personally and professionally. As a global company, BIGO, alongside our counterparts in the market, had to evolve and upgrade our business to serve users better. We believe the world will get back on track soon with closer and tighter collaboration both regionally and internationally.
What were your key achievements in 2020?
Our user base has achieved remarkable growth during 2020 as we now have approximately 400 million users globally. We are extremely pleased with this achievement and look forward to continuing to provide our users with more innovative means of communications that bring joy to their lives.
In addition, as an inclusive global community, BIGO is proud to have played a part in combating COVID-19 and connect people during this challenging time, which is why we held the “Global BIGOer One World Together” fundraising campaign. This initiative attracted over 3.7 million viewers to support the fight against COVID-19 and approximately US$100,000 was raised through the 24-hour campaign with all funds donated to the World Health Organization.
To celebrate all the great work achieved by our broadcasters, users, and staff, we are going to host our annual BIGO Awards Gala at 8 pm SG time on 21st January 2021 in-app. At that time, the top global broadcasters will be awarded and showcase their creativity through wonderful performances as we will review the past year together and look forward to the opportunities that 2021 will bring.
What promises does 2021 bring along?
\\As it relates to live-streaming, direct monetization pathways include pay-per-view, paid subscriptions, advertising, and sponsorships. For a business that is considering live streaming as a part of their product marketing mix, greater brand and product visibility can drive traffic to the company’s sales channels, generating inquiries and leading to increased sales. Live streaming offers an opportunity for businesses whose event marketing activities have been restricted to engage customers through live Q&As with executives, product demonstrations, and involvement in discussion panels.
These platforms can also represent a significant opportunity for any budding content creator, as a new frontier to build a personal brand and audience. A great example would be Sultan Khalid from Saudi Arabia. Although he has a Bachelor’s Degree in Civil Engineering, his passion for music and sharing stories lead him to create content on Bigo Live for a career. He was able to grow his audience to the point where they are able to distinguish his music and content regardless of which platform, they consumed it on which in the process made him a viable candidate for sponsorships as well as marketing and communication opportunities for some leading local and global brands.
It is not easy, of course, to be a successful live streamer. Creators must consistently put out high-quality content, which takes planning, creativity, and practice. They must carefully consider the length and tone of the content they stream, and tailor it depending on the platform they are using, their target audience preferences, and the local cultures.
Do you see opportunities in the regional markets with new markets opening up?
Yes, we do see opportunities. Bigo Live is a global platform and this provides us with a competitive edge in the market. The MENA region is extremely important for our business as it helps us strengthen our presence on the global stage. At present, Bigo Live is being widely used in the region and there is a lot of advocacy for our product.
We have a very high user penetration rate in this region. Furthermore, we are creating a lot of value for the Middle Eastern community especially with people of Arabian descent that are living outside the MENA region and want to feel connected to their home. The regional market is ripe with opportunity and we look forward to seeing how our platform can add value and create a positive impact in the lives of people that live in it.
According to you, which technologies will be in demand in 2021?
Live streaming is a technology that will be in demand in 2021 and is definitely here to stay. The biggest advantage that modern live-streaming platforms such as Bigo Live offers is a suite of features that remove the need for equipment and software. All kinds of editing features are built-in, meaning that the creators just need to bring their creativity.
When it is done well, live streaming is a form of marketing and communications that gives individuals an opportunity to showcase their skills and talents and call attention to causes that matter to them. It also offers businesses a means to increase customer engagement. This can help them build communities, highlight new products and services, and create new businesses that can translate into new commercial opportunities.
What will be your key focus areas for 2021?
For 2021, Bigo Live will have two key focus areas in the MENA region that are:
- E-Commerce Empowered by Livestreaming
- Gaming Empowered by Livestreaming
Bigo Live has been engaging with gamers for over a year now. We believe that gamers in the MENA region can compete against the best in the United States of America and we are looking to engage with them, sponsor them, and provide them with the opportunity to develop their gaming careers. In the Middle East, Bigo Live is looking to collaborate with over 3,000 gamers with the ambition of developing some stars in our community and on our platform.
What milestones have you set for 2021?
Our long-term goal for 2021 is to become more mainstream and be regarded as a phenomenal platform to be on both for content creation and consumption. Bigo Live aims to become the platform that is loved by the masses and can truly create a positive impact in the lives of people on a daily basis. We would also like to explore more opportunities and approach our goal in a progressive and incremental manner.
What would you like to do differently in 2021, when compared with 2020?
Strategically, Bigo Live will explore the opportunity to develop into pan-entertainment fields that include but not limited to film, music, gaming, and reality show. To be specific, we would like to establish partnerships with entertainment companies and organizations and introduce talent that grows and thrive on our platform to a broader world.
We will further recognize and elevate our broadcasters and give them more opportunities and exposure. We aim at empowering them to become real celebrities and – more importantly -people that can create value and a positive impact for others even outside our platform.
Do you plan to enter new markets or add new products/applications to your portfolio in 2021?
From the company’s perspective, we want to keep our predominant position in the MENA region for 2020. We are constantly trying to enhance our portfolio of products and add new services and we will continue to do so in a manner that brings positive value to all our users, regardless of where they may be.