The rise of live streaming: creators are the main force behind social apps' growth

As live streaming becomes more popular, creators are pushing time spent, and also in-app purchases through engagement with their audiences

A man holding a phone walks past a sign of Chinese company ByteDance's app TikTok, known locally as Douyin, at the International Artificial Products Expo in Hangzhou, Zhejiang province, China October 18, 2019. Photo: Reuters/Stringer
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It should not come as a surprise that live streaming is the new frontier for social media apps, and creators are the main drivers for its growth. According to App Annie Intelligence, live streaming apps increased the market share of consumer spending in mobile by 24%, when compared to 2018.

Consumer support for live streamers and content creators also is set to charge monetization, reports App Annie. The company forecasts $ 78 billion spent in social apps globally through 2025.

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According to App Annie’s report, social apps are still in high demand, despite their early adopter status. Only in the first half of 2021, social apps hit 4,7 billion downloads worldwide. Spending in social apps is also booming, with $ 3,2 billion spent in H1 2021 — 50% year over year (YoY) growth.

Authenticity, engagement and audience

Time spent in social apps has maintained steady growth over the past three years, with a 30% rise comparing H1 2021 vs H1 2018. And, in the first half of 2021, it represented 44% of time spent on mobile globally. And the reason behind this is the engagement with live streamers and content creators from platforms such as TikTok and Twitch.

According to the research, “YouTube remains the leader in the streaming, social and photo and video space due to both depth and breadth of engagement“. However, the average time spent per user in ByteDance’s TikTok has surpassed YouTube in key markets like the US and UK. Short-video, authentic content and live streaming are pillars to cultivating deep engagement, with live streaming in particular driving growth in time spent.

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Total time spent in the top 5 social apps with an emphasis on live streaming is set to surpass half a trillion hours on Android phones alone, outside of China in 2021. Live streaming is driving growth in engagement for social apps, which sets them up for consumer spend. App Annie also points out that consumers are shifting to a video-first experience that favors content creators.

The power of gifting

While many social apps have included in-app purchases, many were one-off items like sticker packs purchased from the company. Now, in-app purchases fueling the social market spend are often tied to “gifting” content creators during live streams.

On Twitch, ‘Bits’ are a virtual good that gives viewers the power to “cheer” and support streamers financially, and ‘subs,’ monthly channel subscriptions, allow viewers to access exclusive benefits from their favorite creators such as custom emotes (custom twitch-specific emoticons) and subscriber badges.

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In Singapore-based Bigo Live, they are beans, and in TikTok, they are virtual coins that the viewer uses to buy virtual gifts that they send to the streamers. Generally, the content creators can exchange in-app currency for funds paid out to them. Creators are encouraged to give shout-outs to gifters, which creates a positive feedback loop.

TikTok, Twitch and Bigo Live all rank among the top 10 apps by consumer spend, showcasing the power of the gifting mechanism.

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