Livestreaming Hits the Big Screen as China’s Box Office Booms

While the global outlook for the movie industry remains uncertain at best, the Chinese box office is nearly back to pre-Covid levels, with the recent eight-day National Day/Mid-Autumn holiday period raking in RMB 2.95 million ($581 million) in ticket sales, second only to 2019’s RMB 5 billion ($708 million) take. There were nearly 100 million visits to cinemas (which are still operating at 75% capacity) compared to 135 million last year, and China is poised to overtake North America as the world’s biggest movie market if current trends continue — year-to-date gross receipts surpassed $1.8 billion during the holiday, while the much more sluggish U.S. and Canada box office stood at $2.1 billion.

China’s top e-commerce livestreaming stars are so recognizably in the mainstream that they are now appearing in movies (having already conquered the smaller screens).  The top-grossing film of the holiday period, “My People My Homeland” (我和我的家乡) was co-produced by Alibaba Pictures and featured five stories directed by top comedy directors with the overarching theme of poverty relief.

One of its shorts, “The Road Home” (回乡之路) showcases how e-commerce livestreaming boosted the economy in the Maowusu region in Shanxi Province, transforming a desert into an oasis. China’s top two e-commerce livestreamers, Viya and Li Jiaqi, both appear on screen from the perspective of app viewers, with “lipstick king” Li seen selling the beauty product that made his name. Audiences have noted that the appearances offered an uplifting tone to the film, showing “how times have truly improved” thanks to e-commerce capabilities that are accessible to all.

E-commerce takes on an even bigger role in the film “Coffee or Tea?” (一点就到家, literally “One Click Home”), a smaller-budget, youth-oriented comedy from Alibaba Pictures starring popular Gen Z actor Liu Haoran. Also covering the subject matter of alleviating poverty, the story follows three young men who return to their rural hometown in Yunnan Province to launch an online business centered around a fictional brand of trendy Pu’er coffee, in a region that is best known for its prized teas.

Li Jiaqi makes a cameo playing himself as the three protagonists visit his studio, where he promotes their brand with his typical rapid-fire delivery. Following the film’s release on October 4, Li Jiaqi’s appearance became a trending topic on Weibo, while sales of Pu’er coffee have been boosted by fans of the film, with vendors and brands thriving on Alibaba’s e-commerce platforms.

Last year, Alibaba’s Tmall signed a strategic cooperation agreement with four localities in Yunnan Province (including Pu’er) to promote products from the region, and established a Yunnan coffee livestreaming center to promote sales via e-commerce broadcasts.

The article is written by Ginger Ooi. Read more about how live-streaming are appearing in movies here at CCI.