Vote, YY? Bigo is where the Millennials are, not the polling stations any time soon.

I suspect you know what the top 20 free apps are on the Pakistani App Store? Go on, guess. WhatsApp? Uber? Facebook Messenger? All solid guesses – but there is a surprise entrant, at least for me  and  is already wreaking havoc on the charts. Its 20 on the Apple App Store and 9 on the Google Play Store.

According to SimilarWeb, top spots in both stores are claimed by Bigo Live – a live-streaming video app made by a Singaporean team. During the first week of June NASDAQ-listedd YY Inc  announced that it has invested $272 million in the Series D preferred shares of Bigo Inc as its lead investor. For perspective the AntFinancial Telenor deal was circa $180M.

Other investors that participated in the round include YY chairman and acting CEO, David Xueling Li, who invested in Bigo using his personal funds. Dont be mis-led by by Nasdaq etc,  YY is a major Chinese video-based social network with over 300 million users. It features a virtual currency which users earn through activities such as karaoke or creating tutorial videos and which is later converted to real cash.

Launched in 2005 as duowan.com (NASDAQ: YY), it originally targeted gamers, before broadening to include video streaming and chat features for uses such as concerts, fashion and sports. Users exchange “virtual roses” as a form of currency, with top users said to earn as much as $20,000 per month.

What does this have to do with voting or polling stations? Not much today, but heres the surprise kicker, this is what most of the youth of our country and countless pervs/stalkers are busy doing online. It has a few thousand listings under Pakistan meaning thousands of people are running live cams and men and women alike are cashing out using virtual currency. In a country that bans paypal, kids and pervs alike have figured out a way to circumvent the system or build on top of it to use the app but payments off platform to “talk/engage with” others supposedly like minded people.

Youd think its the same as snap but its not. Its impact is so far reaching it is pulling hordes of domestic internet/mobile traffic. Thats how I stumbled upon it looking at whats causing the seismic shift in online traffic and who after “true caller” in Pakistan was taking the lions share of traffic. Lo and behold we have Bigo.

Forget Snapchat, this app is the next big thing with teenagers in Southeast Asia and countries like Malaysia are having serious ethical moral debates around its usage and lack of controls and potential harm that it can bring to the youth if they come across unsavory individuals and the exploitation kids can face if adults are not aware of whats going on. No one is saying or implying that it is being used for explicit stuff. But since its almost growing underground not many people are even aware of what it is.

Users range from teenagers to twenty somethings and the broadcasts mostly feature them going about their lives, just with a camera pointed at them. Conversations go on between users and the broadcaster. The desire to spontaneously share details about your life that drives millennial juggernaut Snapchat – and, consequently, the desire of others to witness that – looks like a key factor to Bigo’s appeal.The content runs  from surprisingly mundane to mildly racy. Unsurprisingly, those accounts get showered with virtual gifts. That is the kicker here. Get paid to share/broadcast your life, your moments, your voice, your actions etc. Not to forget full video if you so please and depending on your fans.

So what do people do with the app why is it so popular?

The Bigo app relies heavily on game-like elements, where the more you participate (following other users, broadcasting, and so on), the more experience points you get. Experience point, kind of oxymoronic, get rewarded for nothing.

You use those to climb levels and that seems to help push your streams to more viewers. According to the app, “the best way to get [experience points] is to send more gifts.”

This is where it gets complicated. Bigo virtual gifts, Some of the virtual items available for purchase. There’s an internal currency represented by “diamonds,” which the user can buy directly through micro transactions.

You can “gift” virtual items to the streamer, from rings to tiaras to sports cars – items you buy with your diamonds. The items you gift are translated into “beans,” which the streamer can stock up. The more popular the streamer, the more beans they tend to collect. You see where this is going and the potential for exploitation. Surprisingly listings from Pakistan that have high beans are supposedly women broadcaster accounts.

The streamer can then cash out those beans for real money. The current bean exchange rate on the app is 210 beans for US$1. To cash out, the bean hoarder must have at least 6,700 beans in their account. That translates to about US$32.

Not a bad payout for mostly sitting around and talking to your phone’s front-facing camera –  Could be I didn’t analyze all the points systems and missed some thing, but clearly this thing is wildly popular and has huge demand and the Chinese have beat every one to the punch.

Imagine when Chinese payment companies come to town and those who are already integrated in terms of payments will increase the transaction potential for every one involved thus raising the stakes further and making this phenomena even more wild.

The Malaysian Communication and Multimedia Commission has been urged to probe into the ”Bigo Live” application and to take action.

Senator Datuk Mustapa Kamal Mohd Yusoff when debating the motion of thanks on the royal address at the Dewan Negara sitting  said the application was deemed  a a threat to the development of young generation, especially schoolchildren.

The kids are busy with this stuff and thus further involved in their own reality than the reality around them to do with politics, elections, votes and or to participate in a joint future given that more than half the population of the country is under 25. If the download rates are any indication and the type of channels and engagement is representative of whats going on, then clearly we are mis-directed if we feel these kids with participate in their own future.

Right now the data points to them wanting to become social media darlings aware from the peering eyes of their FB/Twitter family and friends in a cocoon that is seemingly not mass market yet so they are ok for now being on here.

Like true-caller, that no one suspects on the amount of traffic it draws, this is going down a similar trajectory. (More on TrueCaller in a future post)

Whats actually going on in the app?

The users’ young age lend an inherent creepiness in the core concept. Obviously, no one is forcing all those people to broadcast but the combination of overexposure-happy attitudes and transactional nature of the app makes watching those streams (and the accompanying chat messages) a little uncomfortable.

Google searches of popular streamers from other South Asian countries(given they are most popular on the leader boards), make this seriously worry some as you see forums pop up dedicated to sharing pictures of popular streamers (mostly female) with people who seem to know them or where they live or work in real life.

This has less to do with the app itself and more with how people tend to handle their online presence nowadays, this doesn’t make this any less creepy, Bigo has apparently cracked the nut where its incentivizing people to share en mass.  The app it self is not doing any thing wrong, the same app can be used to run video tutorials.

Whats the potential for businesses?

Given that this a product that has already displaced online traffic away from traditional online publishers and content producers not just in Pakistan but across South Asia, perhaps its a good medium to use for content distribution from print/news/tv to the millennials given thats where they are.

Huge payments play to be had especially if in-country payments are added for real services and not just beans for your face on screen. Further its time for domestic and international businesses to figure out how they will compete with this and many others to come.

The one thing that is positive is that there is still time to get in line and figure out what else is coming to us by way of CPEC and OBOR and if these are the signs of the direction stuff is taking, we must have digital equivalents to engage our youth in some thing productive. For a country that makes every ones Footballs and software, its time for some thing indigenous to come up that is good for all.

Or if some one had the Bigo logo on a ballot paper and a campaign on the app, Id bet they’d stand a decent chance to win. Perhaps we have been solving the wrong problem all along?

The camera makes you forget you’re there. It’s not like you are hiding but you forget, you are just looking so much. Annie Leibovitz

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