The number of livestreaming users reached 560 million in China as of March this year, official figures show, a number that accounts for 62% of the country’s total number of internet users.

According to a report from the China Internet Network Information Center, the figure represents a rise of 163 million users since the end of 2018.

The number of users of live game streaming and live host shows grew by 22 million and almost 44 million respectively; live game streaming accounted for almost 29% of the total number of online users, while host shows made up almost 23% of the total, Xinhua reported.

The number of people watching livestreaming e-commerce events reached 265 million in March, the data shows. Some 213 million users watched live sports events, and 150 million connected to live streamed music concerts.

As of March 2020, the country had 904 million internet users, with internet penetration reaching 64.5%, according to the Center.

Livestreaming in China was already burgeoning even before the COVID-19 lockdown, with the e-commerce-within-livestreaming market estimated to be worth $4.4 billion in 2018, according to Deloitte. That was an increase of 32% over the previous year, and 86% higher than in 2016.

In early February this year, livestreams on Alibaba’s e-commerce platform Taobao saw a rise of 110% in user numbers.

The market’s key digital platforms, which include Tmall, WeChat and Weibo, enable interactive livestreaming content spotlighting the country’s most popular key opinion leaders (KOLs). And KOLs such as Viya, and vlogger Austin Li Jiaqi, known as the “lipstick queen”, are able to command vast livestreaming audiences.

A report from Gartner, What Western Brands Can Learn from the China Explosion in Livestreaming During COVID-19, detailed how the virus crisis has turbo-charged the livestreaming sector. “In China, where it was already popular, livestreaming became omnipresent and tapped into every aspect of people’s lives,” it said.

Tencent’s WeChat, and Douyin (known in other markets as TikTok), and social commerce app RED, all launched livestreaming functionality during the crisis, the report said.

China’s tech giants brainstormed ideas to help brands leverage the content format creatively to adapt to the crisis. Alibaba’s Taobao livestream, for example, helped restaurants by launching “Cloud Restaurant”, which allowed participating restaurants to turn their kitchens into livestream studios, so their chefs could teach cooking to online audiences, while using the opportunity to promote takeouts and frozen food.

Sourced from Xinhua, Deloitte, Gartner; additional content by WARC staff