17 Media Wants to Dominate Your Screen
The Taiwanese live streaming platform "17 Media,” co-founded by Taiwanese rapper Jeffrey Huang of the hip-hop group Machi, successfully entered Japan last year and is now looking to South Korea and the United States. What is the secret to standing out in the hotly contested live streaming market?
17 Media Wants to Dominate Your ScreenBy Sydney Peng
From CommonWealth Magazine (vol. 642 )
About three months ago, the media spotlight in Japan was on 17 Media. On his late night show Ariyoshi Japon on the TBS television channel, Japanese comedian Hiroiki Ariyoshi featured “the magic app that lets you rake in three million yen a month.” He asked two women named Mami and Mika to talk about their lives after they began live streaming on 17 Media.
Jeffrey Huang, formerly a member of the popular Taiwanese rap group LA Boyz, co-founded the startup 17 Media in 2015. After Singapore-based dating app Paktor acquired a controlling stake in 17 Media in late 2016, the two companies merged to form M17 Entertainment last August.
After eventually conquering the fiercely contested Taiwanese market, 17 Media last year stepped out of the Chinese-language circle to enter the 130 million-strong market of Japan. Within a short time, the app soared to the second-biggest live streaming platform in Japan, which boasts a per capita GDP four times that of China.
“We were no.2 after being on the market for just four months, and we’re chasing the top spot quite aggressively. In another two or three months, we will have surpassed them,” declares Huang with confidence.
The experience of live stream host Minato Kiriyama, a university student, highlights the secret of 17 Media’s success in Japan. Kiriyama came to Taiwan on February 22 as one of 20 top-ranked Japanese live stream hosts invited to participate in a 17 Media streaming competition.
Some 1,000 participants from Taiwan, Hong Kong and Japan participated in the contest, competing with their live streams on site for virtual gifts from their fans. The candidate who generates the highest revenue wins.
Among the dressed-up crowd of hosts who flaunted their cuteness, Kiriyama did not particularly stick out. At the venue, he simply sang Japanese singer Ken Hirai’s version of My Grandfather's Clock without any dance moves or acting. During his performance, a barrage of encouraging messages moved across his smartphone screen as fans sent him virtual gifts they had purchased with real money.
Kiriyama, who is currently ranked 2nd among male Japanese live stream hosts. (Image: Chien-Tong Wang)
Kiriyama, who will graduate from university in a month, has been acting on stage and in TV dramas. He has also performed at the Nippon Budokan indoor arena in Tokyo. He only started his live stream last October. Successively, he participated in Halloween and Christmas events in Japan before joining the contest in Taiwan during the Lunar New Year. To make it into the Top 20 of Japanese live stream hosts, Kiriyama broadcast five live videos online every day, pushing his gift points to four million (about NT$1.2 million). At the moment, he is ranked 2nd among male Japanese live stream hosts.
Kiriyama admits that life as a host is quite stressful. He spends two to three hours a day streaming live video and constantly checks whether his ranking has slipped.
He warns that one’s mindset is very important. “If your heart is not strong enough, you cannot serve as a live stream host,” Kiriyama tells us.
Soaring to Rank 2 in 4 Months
The high competitive pressure also stems from the rapid growth of 17 Media in Japan.
The Japanese subsidiary of 17 Media was founded only last June in a joint venture with Tokyo-based Infinity Venture Partners, which has also invested in Taiwanese music streaming service KKBox and original design marketplace Pinkoi.
Within less than half a year after going online, 17 Media had grabbed the second largest share of the Japanese live stream market, behind Showroom, which has been on the market for almost three years.
Showroom belongs to the offerings of Japanese mobile portal and e-commerce website provider DeNA Co. Ltd.
The Japanese live video scene evolved somewhat late, but this does not mean that there is no competition. Aside from Showroom, there are Up Live, Cheetah Mobile’s live broadcasting app Live.me, or MeMe, all of which started out in China. How was 17 Media able to soar to second place so quickly? The answer is a golden triangle of technology, a team of locally influential people, and strategy.
First, the uncluttered and fast user interface owes to the technological strength in live streaming that 17 Media acquired over time. Kiriyama, who used Live.me in the past, notes that he switched to 17 Media because he was drawn by the practical interface.
Infinity Venture Partners partner Akio Tanaka, who once served as CEO of 17 Media Taiwan, observes that, in contrast to the small display design and slow video start speed of competitors, videos open smoothly on 17 Media thanks to the app’s technological edge. On top of that, the interface is more intuitive and easier to understand.
Second, when entering the Japanese market, 17 Media could rely on the venture capital team’s experience and interpersonal networks in Japan.
Thanks to the reputation of Infinity Venture Partners in Japan, the Series A funding round in 2015 raised NT$320 million, while the Series B round in August last year netted US$40 million.
Their three-person team in Taiwan shares an office with Taiwan’s Abico Group, and new venture partner Huang is also the son-in-law of Abico Group co-founder Tong Ching-hsi.
No matter whether 17 Media collaborates with KKBox or joins hands with Infinity Venture Partners to establish a subsidiary in Japan, Tanaka is always pulling the strings in the background.
Most importantly, with its entry into Japan, 17 Media abandoned its former laissez-faire attitude in favor of stricter control of streamed videos, going for high-quality, influential content.
After 17 Media went online in July 2015, the app topped 10 million downloads in 284 days, a higher download rate than that of Twitter or Instagram.
But high growth in user-generated content (UGC) also carries risks. In its early days, 17 Media was temporarily delisted from the Apple App Store after indecent content streamed via the platform became the focus of public debate.
Meanwhile, 17 Media seems to have learned its lesson: When entering Japan, it changed its approach, first collaborating with celebrity influencers who produce high-quality content and then using this content to attract people to join.
Young Japanese men who aspire, like Kiriyama, to find an audience for their performances or shows completely changed the way Huang looks at live streaming in Japan.
“It’s interesting that there are so many men on there,” remarks Huang, not hiding his surprise.
In comparison to Taiwan, where 80 percent of live broadcast hosts are female, the male-female ratio in Japan stands at almost fifty-fifty. And while Taiwanese hosts prefer talking, Japanese hosts focus on artistic performances such as singing or traditional comic dialogue.
Dreams of Going Public in US
Huang has set his eyes on even loftier goals for the future. This year, he wants to expand into South Korea and the United States.
However, when it comes to China, the main battleground for live streaming, 17 Media is treading cautiously. Although a Hong Kong subsidiary has already been established, 17 Media decided to first tackle the Japanese market, given the particularities of live streaming in China and the red-hot competition there.
A venture capitalist who requested anonymity confirmed that M17 Entertainment is in the process of applying for a NASDAQ listing. The outcome of the application could be announced as early as next month.
Jeffrey Huang, who was a member of the popular Taiwanese rap group LA Boyz, co-founded the 17 Media. (Image: Chien-Tong Wang)
No matter where future battlefields lie, Huang’s fighting spirit continues to evolve.
“Live broadcasting is a technology that everyone has. The difference lies in the system outside live streaming. You need to train hosts, package and produce them, and give them more room to bring their skills and talent into full play,” Huang says.
As real-time interactive content moves from the smartphone cross-screen for use on multiple digital devices, children will probably no longer watch TV in the future. However, whether smartphone displays will show YouTube or Netflix videos or novel audiovisual interaction created by 17 Media is yet to be seen.
Translated from the Chinese article by Susanne Ganz