An online celebrity reacts for her followers via a livestreaming app in Wuhan, capital of Hubei province. [Photo by Miao Jian / For China Daily]
Thousands of miles away from the 2018 FIFA World Cup, tens of thousands of Chinese livestreaming hosts have set their biological clock to Russian time.
When it is midnight in Shanghai, 28-year-old Li Jin finally ends her hectic day of live World Cup commentary. Seven hours later, she will be up and about, ready for yet another busy work day.
During the competition she is commentating live from 5 pm to 11 pm on e-commerce giant Alibaba Group Holding Ltd's Taobao shopping site. On her livestream, she predicts the winner and recommends sports equipment and products to viewers. People who like the products can scroll up to purchase them.
She is not a professional soccer commentator, but she commands a staggering 1.06 million followers on microblogging site Sina Weibo. Her status makes her stand out among other brand-endorsing celebrities.
Looking on the World Cup as a strong summer sales boost, Alibaba has set aside coupons worth over 200 million yuan ($29.86 million) as prizes for online contests, in which viewers collect cards sporting various soccer stars. These can be redeemed when customers make purchases on the company's e-commerce platforms.
Ma Shicong, an analyst at Beijing-based internet consultancy Analysys, said a wide range of internet and technology platforms are using the World Cup as an opportunity to integrate different resources.
"They are trying to meet users' needs for diverse experiences both online and offline, including content, e-commerce and entertainment consumption."
After six months of livestreaming, Li now has around 30,000 followers on Taobao's platform, offering a range of advice on sports products and how to live a healthy life.
She said the Taobao platform offers unique opportunities and the whole Alibaba ecosystem has huge potential, signifying a new trend in e-commerce.
Li is just one example－albeit a particularly successful example－of new internet celebrities who are rewriting the rules of marketing, branding and e-commerce. Alongside Li, there are millions of hosts on the Taobao platform catering to a rapidly growing audience, in particular young viewers.
A recent report released by Sina Weibo and market research company iResearch said China's wanghong, meaning internet celebrity, economy developed rapidly last year. It said social media personalities have become more skilled at converting their influence into cash through posting picture-perfect lifestyle images, video clips and livestreams.
Without specifying how many online celebrities have more than 100,000 followers each, the report said their tribe increased by 51 percent this year, with a collective fan base of 588 million, up by 25 percent from 2017.