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Japan's 17 Live makes global push as Chinese platforms face crackdown

Streaming app eyes markets in India and US

Japan-based live streaming company 17 Live aims to conquer overseas markets, according to CEO Hirofumi Ono. (Photo by Ken Kobayashi)

TOKYO -- Japanese livestreaming company 17 Live is making a push into India and the U.S. as Chinese tech companies face regulatory headwinds at home and abroad.

17 Live recently moved its headquarters from Taiwan to Japan, where it claims to have gained the leading position in its sector since launching four years ago. Now, the aim is to conquer overseas markets, CEO Hirofumi Ono said in an interview.

The livestreaming industry first took off in China, and some of the biggest local players have started expanding globally. But they have come under regulatory pressure in recent months, such as in India, which banned hundreds of Chinese apps amid a political rift between the two countries, and more recently from within China, where regulators have moved to impose stricter oversight of how companies handle user data.

Joyy, a U.S.-listed Chinese operator of several livestreaming apps, said in August that monthly active users fell 26% year-on-year to 307.5 million in the second quarter.

"Headwinds against Chinese services in countries other than China have become very strong, and it is highly likely that this will continue," Ono said. "China is a large and attractive market, but there is an opportunity to become number one in other areas. We want to aim for that position."

Livestreaming as a form of entertainment has grown in popularity in Japan as the COVID-19 pandemic led to numerous offline events and gatherings being canceled. Platforms like 17 Live generate revenue from viewers who purchase virtual gifts to send to live streamers.

17 Live, formerly called M17, was founded in Taiwan but Ono, a former venture capitalist and serial entrepreneur, became the CEO of the group last year as the Japan business soared. Despite intense competition in the market, 17 Live says it has a 52.6% market share in Japan and more than 50 million registered accounts globally. Ono attributed this to its heavy investment in personnel tasked with scouring platforms like Twitter to find potential live streamers and then training those who are recruited. The team accounts for about half of its 200 employees in Japan.

"We have focused on developing various types of content, such as music, dance and cooking," Ono said. "Most of the livestreaming on platforms from China were mainly attractive women and men. We thought [livestreaming] could be provided more universally ... where more people enjoy it and also become live streamers."

He said 17 Live will take a similar strategy in the U.S. and India, where the livestreaming market is still in its infancy. Consumers spent $4.9 billion on livestreaming platforms and other social apps in 2020, according to data provider App Annie, which estimates the figure will surge to $17.7 billion in 2025.

Japanese rivals are following suit. Gaming company DeNa launched its livestreaming app Pococha in the U.S. in May. Showroom, another livestreaming company, raised an investment from Hybe, the South Korean entertainment company that manages popular music acts like BTS.

17 Live last raised $26.5 million from a group of investors led by Singapore's Vertex Growth Fund. Ono declined to comment on fundraising targets.

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