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Exploring the Impact of Live Streaming on Singaporean Culture

The explosive growth of new media technologies has increased the ease and speed of communicating information. Live streaming is a new media technology that has become popular in Singapore. In live streaming, the video signal is compressed and sent to a server where it is redistributed to viewers. Viewers can watch an event, such as a fashion show or music concert, as it happens, much like in broadcast television. The real difference with live streaming is that the viewers can interact with the event in real time. This paper will look at the development of live streaming Singapore and how it has impacted the cultural norms and behaviors of people in Singapore’s society. Singapore is a country that has rapid internet access, and more people are using it to engage with the internet. Since 2010, there has been an increase in online advocacy as well as the use of social media and the widespread utilization of social media tools, and around this period is where we saw the rise of blogging in Singapore. Live streaming has only become popular in recent years, due to the rise of popularity of gaming platform Twitch in 2012 and the widespread utilization of mobile phones.

Background of live streaming in Singapore

Live streaming Singapore is relatively new to the public. Live streaming became widely recognized around 2015. This was evident with the increase in popularity of Twitch, an online website providing streaming services on digital and creative arts content. Twitch was initially focused on optimizing the gaming live streaming done by several pro and amateur gamers around the world. This then led to the trend of an increasing number of young gamers worldwide testing out their luck in the field of live streaming themselves playing games online in the hope to share their skills or antics to an audience in an attempt to be an online personality. However, the trend of gaming live streaming in Singapore was not as strong. Despite the availability of several video game conventions held in Singapore, gaming live streaming did not pick up as much compared to Western countries. This will be explained in detail in the later section. On the other hand, another live streaming platform which was massively popular is YouTube Live. This was a gaming live streaming platform directly in competition with Twitch. However, the service was shut down in mid-2017 with the intention to be integrated into the mainstream of gaming content on YouTube. Live streaming has a different impact compared to video-on-demand services since live streaming involves real-time interaction between the streamer and the viewers. As for the case of YouTube Live, it was not a very strong platform in Singapore and most of the viewers in Singapore were more used to the traditional video-on-demand gaming content present on YouTube. So far, the most impactful live streaming platform for Singapore was Facebook Live, with strong influence from the youth and young adults. This was mainly due to the popularity of the social media platform itself in Singapore. However, the content of these streams was generic and not specific to Singaporean culture.

The Rise of Live Streaming in Singapore

In September 2016, the live streaming platform BIGO Live (developed by a Singapore-based team) was launched. It had gone on to become the most popular live streaming app in Southeast Asia, including Singapore. Its revenue is deemed significant enough for it to secure exclusive rights to broadcast the Rio Olympics and even sponsor a national Dota 2 e-sports team. Due to its regional popularity, a collaboration with Mediacorp was formed in 2017. Mediacorp had intended to encourage its artists to use BIGO Live as a platform to connect with fans.

Live streaming is broadcasting live video of oneself or an event over the internet. Periscope, Facebook Live, and Instagram Live are popular live streaming platforms that Singaporeans use. Typically, Singaporeans use live streaming for positive feelings/events, reunions, and updating others on their activities. For example, during the launch of Instagram Live, it was observed that most Singaporeans were using it as a platform to update their activities to their friends.

Overview of live streaming platforms in Singapore

Singapore is home to an array of live streaming platforms, including those with a global reach such as Twitch and regional-based services like BIGO Live and Asia Innovations Group’s Uplive. Twitch has a sizable following in Singapore due to Singapore’s highly connected infrastructure which allows for optimal connectivity to Twitch servers and its promotion by popular local cyber athletes. Other platforms are intrinsically connected to mobile devices, allowing streaming “on-the-go”. The popular mobile app ’17’ is an example of such a platform. Comparable to 17 is Bigo Live, with its primary source of revenue being the exchange of virtual gifts between broadcasters and viewers. Uplive follows a similar business model to BIGO Live and 17 by allowing users to earn money. YouTube is also attempting to stake its claim in the live streaming scene by introducing a mobile live streaming feature, but has yet to see similar success compared to the established platforms.

Popular live streaming content in Singapore

There’s a variety of popular live streams amongst Singaporeans, but they mostly come in the form of video games and e-sports. As shown by the fact that Twitch is the second most visited site in Singapore, the live streaming of video games is a huge market in Singapore. Many Singaporeans watch live streams of games to decide whether they want to purchase them, as well as to keep up with events and news in the video game community. This is also true for signings and talks hosted by professional gamers, which are often streamed. This gaming culture often extends to gambling in Singapore, which could explain the popularity of live streamed e-sports, specifically tournament streams. The access to these gambling opportunities has led to an increase in gambling, and Singapore has responded by banning two e-sports players with current gambling issues from leaving the country in the hopes of preventing a match-fixing scandal. Live stream viewership and gambling have a tendency to go hand in hand, so there may be concerns on what impact the oncoming wave of e-sports will carry with it. With Singaporeans taking up the opportunity to stream their e-sports matches on personal channels in a similar way to regular sports, it could be said that e-sports live streaming has influenced an increase in e-sports involvement in Singapore.

Impact of live streaming on media consumption habits

The increase of live streaming in Singapore has been noted. Not only has there been a steady increase in viewership over the years, but the proportion of young Singaporeans (aged 15-24) watching TV has decreased from 70% to 66%, while the proportion of young adults (aged 25-34) has decreased from 84% to 77%. This decline in TV viewership has been attributed to the increased amount of live streaming of catch-up TV and other forms of videos over the internet. According to research by MDA, in 2015, young adults aged 15-34 spent an average of 4 hours and 6 minutes per day using the internet, compared to 3 hours and 13 minutes watching TV, reflecting a greater demand for online content that may not be available through traditional forms of media. The duration spent by youth increased to 4 hours and 15 minutes in 2016, while a decline in TV viewership has been reflected by a decrease to 3 hours and 56 minutes. These changes in media consumption habits would leave an impact on future Singaporean generations, with more youth spending time on the internet as they grow older, and less time watching TV. This would result in a media environment that favors digital content over traditional broadcast, something that would change the landscape of Singaporean media and have implications on the type of media that Singaporeans consume in the future.

Influence of Live Streaming on Singaporean Culture

Self-expression is something that holds different meanings for different individuals. Traditional methods of this involved activities such as painting, writing, photography, and music, to name a few. In modern society, we are seeing a shift in this trend towards less time-consuming or intensive methods. Users want to share their thoughts and feelings in an easy and entertaining manner. This has given rise to activities such as micro-blogging and YouTubing. Live streaming presents itself as a new platform for self-expression, and what sets it apart from the rest is its “in-the-moment” element. Whatever activity a streamer is engaging in, there is an audience to share the experience with. This is an attractive feature to many who wish to seek like-minded individuals. Live streaming would thus cultivate an online subculture of different activities, from gamers to music to even tutorial streams. These cultures would not exist without the presence of live streaming and serve as a new form of globalized culture.

Live streaming has blurred the lines between public and private space. No longer is it necessary to meet friends in town for a catch up or a meal. Instead, users are able to see real-time updates on their friends’ lives or even stream their own activities from the comfort of their own room. Primarily, this form of communication is cost-effective and time-efficient, allowing people to maintain relationships or foster new ones without leaving the house. In Singapore’s fast-paced society, this is a highly alluring option and explains why live streaming has gained such rapid popularity. An interesting point that arises: is this pushing the practice of going out and “living life” to a fading tradition? It is still too early to tell, but if live streaming continues to improve in quality and convenience, it may be a future possibility.

With the infiltration of live streaming into Singaporean society, it undoubtedly has an influence on the local culture. We have chosen to focus on three main areas: changes in social interactions and relationships, live streaming as a form of self-expression, and the impact on traditional media and entertainment industries.

Changes in social interactions and relationships

According to Kat Chow (2017) from NPR, live streaming has introduced different styles of communication to Singaporeans. Although the concept of spilling one’s day to strangers is not something new, the public atmospheres of hawker centres and coffee shops are contrasted with the privatized studios of professional e-gamers. Jay Lim, a 23-year-old IT administrator, said that while some live streamers create echo chambers of their own opinions, there are others who engage their audience with healthy discourse. Stephanie Choy, a 22-year-old undergrad, weighed in on both the interactive and passive nature of live streaming, saying that sometimes it is nice to be directly involved in a conversation with a streamer, while other times she would just leave a stream on to keep her company while she works on other things. It’s clear that the various forms of social interaction provided by live streaming have resonated with many different people. A pertinent example of the upstream effect live streaming has on social interactions is the popularity of interactive game shows. These streamers often amass a large audience as they engage them in a way that is reminiscent of a real game show, sometimes going as far as to give out prizes. An audience member familiar with such event-based interactions within online games might feel inspired to mimic the live streaming experience within his own community. In this way, live streaming has germinated an entirely new form of social interaction.

Live streaming as a form of self-expression

Live streaming on Twitch takes many forms, from full-time, professional streamers who provide entertaining content to parents documenting their daily lives with an audience. Here, we discuss a range of streamers who broadcast for a variety of reasons. Through interviews with 25 American Twitch users, we identify the many different ways in which people perceive live streaming on Twitch and the diverse roles it can take. We draw comparisons to work on YouTubers as an emerging form of media creator and discuss live streaming in terms of parasocial interaction and self-presentation. Throughout, we consider the implications of our findings in relation to how live streaming might impact culture and society. This work provides a qualitative, exploratory analysis of live streaming through the perceptions and experiences of Twitch users. By identifying the various forms that live streaming can take and its diverse cast of content producers, we gain a broader understanding of this activity and its potential impacts.

Impact on traditional media and entertainment industries

The rise of live streaming has also impacted the traditional media and entertainment industries that have been established as a mainstay within Singapore’s commercial landscape. The shift in viewer attention and action to live streaming has been seen to lead to a decline in movie viewership and DVD rental services. In a survey done by researchers, it showed that Singaporeans aged 18-34 are most likely to stream videos online as opposed to an older demographic which would opt for watching it on television. The possibility of viewing rather recent and possibly pirated films online has shown to lead to reduced cinema patronage. Movie producers have also partaken in live streaming events as a form of monetizing and promotions for their upcoming movies. An example would be Jack Neo’s “Ah Boys to Men: The Days” which featured a live streaming event with the cast answering questions from fans.

Challenges and Future Prospects

Additionally, livestreaming by nature involves interaction directly with a potentially large audience. This opens up a variety of issues on individual responsibility and psychology. One recent incident involved a 19-year-old teenager in Qingdao, China, deciding to stream her own suicide. This tragedy serves as a serious reminder that there is the potential for livestreaming to be used for self-harm or other dangerous activities. Closer to home in Singapore, there have been concerns on the rise of online gambling or sex services disguised as live shows. All these unexpected negative activities pose a difficult challenge to regulate on local or international levels.

This phenomenon of livestreaming entertainment, quite naturally, has caught the attention of governments. In August 2016, reports emerged that China’s State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television had urged video streaming platforms to better enforce regulations, citing rising “vulgar” content. A Singaporean equivalent would be the Media Development Authority (MDA). However, it is still uncertain whether current regulations apply to livestreaming by private individuals, who are not registered companies. Regardless, both MDA and the Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) will have to consider taking a stance on this issue as it becomes more mainstream.

Regulatory and ethical considerations

Internet regulation in Singapore has been a prominent topic in the local context since its birth, citing examples such as the MDA licensing regime or even netizens debating about internet censorship and the freedom of speech. With the rise of live streaming, the Media Development Authority recently announced that websites which predominantly contain video or audio content, and do not have a valid class licence, would be deemed to have breached the MDA’s Internet Content Provider licensing regulations. This would place a heavier burden on all local live streamers as they would need to apply for a license in order to continue making a living out of live streaming. Also, this would mean that future Twitch servers located in Singapore would need to follow suit. With all these new licensing regulations implemented upon live streaming, would it cause more live streamers to call it quits in fear of the law? Or perhaps it may even be the cause of the death of the live streaming scene here in Singapore? Although it has only just begun, it will be interesting to see how this may potentially change Singapore’s internet-based media content landscape.

Opportunities for businesses and content creators

More and more Singaporeans have turned to online streaming for entertainment and relaxation. While some have been overseas for studies/work and have found solace in being able to keep in touch with Singaporean pop-culture through this medium, others utilize it as a platform to showcase their artistic and creative talents. With the use of live streaming platforms, content creators are able to easily reach out to a large audience available in the cyber space. Activities such as gaming, drawing, singing, cooking, and even just chatting can be streamed ‘live’ to an audience. This allows for immediate interaction with the viewers, and some have found this to be a useful source of income as well. For those who run their own small businesses making and selling products, streaming serves as a very useful marketing tool to demonstrate their products and reach out to potential consumers. A good example would be a local brand of arcade stick makers in Singapore who have found much success through streaming their product demonstrations at overseas gaming tournaments on platforms such as Twitch.

Potential long-term effects on Singaporean culture

The ability of livestreaming to unify the populace provides a stepping stone towards the creation of a nationwide identity. Singapore is unique in that it has a very “meta-identity” of being a multicultural society, but does not have a firm national identity based on its short history. The older generations have a longing for the “good old days” of the 60s and 70s where communities were tight-knit, and lifestyles were simpler. However, the youth are at a disconnect with these sentiments. It is well said in the traditional tourism slogan: “Singapore is a fine city”, taken literally by the youth as “Singapore is a high-priced city with exorbitant fines”. The youth are the future generations of Singapore, and their perception will shape the future Singaporean identity. By exposing the older generation’s lifestyles and values to the youth, it may create an understanding of where their roots lie, and an identity based on “who we are and how we got here”. This can be seen as a positive effect on Singaporean culture, as the national identity will be based on shared experiences, as opposed to being an umbrella term for the various races and social groups coexisting. It can also be said that a shared identity and experiences between the various races is a step towards breaking down social barriers that still exist in Singapore today, as everyone can come to an understanding of each other’s unique cultures.

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