Can China’s Internet Celebrities Gain International Stardom?

  • China’s wang hong, or internet celebrities, reach bigger audiences but so far have earned less than their Western counterparts.
  • New firms like VS Media are emerging to develop and manage these online personalities. 
  • VS Media and Discovery Communications announced a new partnership to develop Chinese net celebs internationally, and import foreign ones to China.
Ivy Wong, CEO of VS Media (technode)

Ivy Wong, CEO of VS Media (technode)

Having received a joint investment of over US$1 million, Papi Jiang is considered one of China’s most successful internet celebrities, or wang hong (网红). Globally, she still has a long way to go.

Outside of China, internet celebrities like Swedish Youtube star “PewDiePie” are making as much as $12 million in one year.

“How is it that Youtubers in the [West] can be both influential and make a profit?” says Ivy Wong, the CEO of VS Media, a multi-channel network (MCN) for video content producers in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and the Chinese mainland.

“The most important thing is that they have a lot of MCNs […] between brands and internet celebrities to help them create better content and monetize it.”

On Tuesday, VS Media and Discovery Communications, the company behind the Discovery Channel, jointly announced a strategic partnership, which includes an undisclosed amount of funding from Discovery Communications and a new RMB 26 million (about $3.9 million) fund for VS Media’s media entrepreneurs. VS Media will leverage the new partnership to bring Chinese internet celebrities overseas and foreign stars into China.

“We want to make China’s internet celebrity economy more professional, more standard, and more international,” says Wong. “We actually have a lot of internet celebrities with great content but don’t know how to improve their video quality.”

“By giving them more resources and money, they can change their content from UGC [user generated content] to PGC [professional generated content] to IP [intellectual property],” she says.

VS Media calls itself the “voice of young Chinese.” According to Wong, the average video content creator on VS Media is in their 20s, though the platform has creators as young as four years old. Video clips are short, just a few minutes long, and are distributed to other content platforms such as Meipai, a Chinese video editing app.

In addition to marketing and distribution services, VS Media also provides film equipment, training, and production support. The company is also working on several IP projects, including a virtual reality travel series, a feature on eSports in China, and a show about Chinese millennial fashion.

“Around the world there are young Chinese people, so we’ve never thought about changing our content to fit Western tastes,” says Wong. The main barrier to globalizing Chinese video content is access to international platforms like Youtube, not the actual content itself, she says.

It’s not clear whether or not Chinese internet celebrities can appeal to non-Chinese audiences, but that might not even matter. The Chinese diaspora was estimated to be about 50 million people in 2010, according to a report by investment firm Greater Pacific Capital. It’s a sizable market that Chinese internet celebrities could tap into in addition to the domestic market. Besides VS Media, Vice also features wang hong. However, for the most part, Chinese internet celebrities will hire local agents or work with local companies to find and seal deals with brands inside China.

According to VS Media, the platform currently has over 500 video content creators. Founded in 2013, the Hong Kong-based company set up its first office in the Chinese mainland last summer and received an undisclosed amount of funding from China Media Capital in June.

—This story first appeared on