March 28th, 2017

China’s new craze for live-streaming

Source: The Economist               Date: 9/2/2017


LAST YEAR ZHAO XINLONG, aged 25, and his wife and baby boy moved from his parents’ farm into a mid-rise apartment in town. It has been a tough adjustment. Luan County is a rustbelt community on the polluted outskirts of the steel city of Tangshan in north-east China. Mr Zhao’s monthly income from driving a taxi has plummeted by more than half in the past couple of years, and he has not found it easy to make friends in his new abode.

But when he gets online in the evening, he becomes a different person: Zhao Long’er, an entertainer. Using Kuaishou, a Chinese video-sharing and live-streaming app, he broadcasts to a live audience of hundreds, sometimes thousands, of fellow Chinese every night. Taken together, they add up to more than 100,000. Many of them are diaosi, people who mockingly identify themselves as losers in dead-end jobs. Online he can relate to them, telling them stories, dirty jokes, whatever is on his mind. Continue reading

March 18th, 2016

WeChat official account popularizing art gets valued at more than RMB 200 million after series A

By: Sheila Yu                       Source: Technode                Date: 14/3/2017


Yiwai11 (意外艺术), a WeChat official account dedicated to popularizing fine art, recently announced it has acquired more than RMB 20 million in a series A, putting its valuation at more than RMB 200 million, local news is reporting (in Chinese).

Rather than the minority wealthy or artist population, Yiwai11 pinpoints the broader public as its target market. The official account has been successful in popularizing fine art among Chinese people by translating dull and difficult art content into something suitable for a lower common denominator. Its 40-episode art talk show “Is art difficult?” has racked up 300 million views since its launch in 2014, with 2.5 million unique viewers.

The financing round, led by Toutoushidao Capital, is the latest in a financing boom seen among WeChat official accounts. These official accounts have an edge in terms of business value expansion and ability to obtain vast user base with low costs. They are now cashing in on the platform provided by WeChat in various ways, such as selling advertising, marketing advertorials, providing services, and selling products through O2O.

Some popular public accounts like Mimeng (咪蒙) can charge RMB 300,000 for one ad slot while authors of popular posts in some public accounts may receive financial rewards through WeChat’s “reward” function. In addition, WeChat reportedly will launch paid servicesfor the content offered by public accounts, creating new revenue streams for these accounts.

The rise of these official accounts has triggered an investment bonanza, with even an account of 10,000 fans being able to secure a multi-million investment. Over the past two years, an increasing number of WeChat public accounts have seen their valuation pass the RMB 100 million mark.

Among them, the Luogic Show (罗辑思维) saw its valuation reach RMB 1.3 billion (in Chinese) last year after completing its series B funding round, while Yitiao (一条) raised RMB 100 million in series B round of investment, at a valuation of US$ 200 million (in Chinese).

March 15th, 2017

Can .art domain give the art business an online boost?

Arts institutions now have the option of a new internet suffix which aims to offer greater intelligibility and authenticity and maybe help the art market

By: Edward Helmore        Source: The Guardian                Date: 12/3/17



London’s Institute of Contemporary Art adopted the new .Art suffix last week, a sign that the art and culture business may at last be starting to come to terms with its future in the digital realm.

The hip arts organisation ditched its fusty web domain for the more streamlined and descriptive The move may soon be followed at other prestigious art institutions around the world, the ICA says, including the Tate in London, Guggenheim in New York, the Pompidou Centre in Paris and Lacma in Los Angeles.

The ICA director, Stefan Kalmár, said the change of web address was not only logical but underlined the ICA’s position as an institution “that has always thought globally and opposes the current re-emerging of nationalism in the UK and elsewhere”.

Five years ago, the body in charge of names on the internet, ICANN, swept away regulations and opened up a new world of additional web address suffixes, or top-level domains, including .art.

But can the adoption of .art really be more than just a symbolic gesture? “The intent is to bring back a more orderly structure to this incredible mess of the internet,” says Anton Vidokle, the entrepreneur behind the art company e-flux. E-flux is acting as an adviser to UKCI, a UK-based company that signed an agreement with ICANN to administer the .art domain in August 2016.

Vidokle believes that distributing the .art extension to artists or art-related businesses will help to more clearly define the intelligibility and authenticity of art enterprises – and perhaps contribute to the continuing viability of the art business.

“There are maybe 6,000 art institutions [working with e-flux] and perhaps half of them have no reference to visual art in their names,” Vidokle says. He estimates that there are at least 20,000 institutions worldwide. “If they cater to the public, they may want the public to identify them as an art space because people immediately understand your professional affiliation.”

He adds: “Being an artist implies a normative departure from bourgeois society. It’s a different kind of extension because it refers to a different lifestyle, so, unlike other domains, .art has the capacity to draw artists and institutions to itself.”

This could prove a timely development. Once assumed immune to digital disruption, art has recently appeared more vulnerable, thanks to a slew of gallery closures and institutional upheavals tied in part to the costs of doing business in the physical realm.

Whether or not a more defined internet structure will help business remains to be seen. There were once just 22 top-level domains with type suffixes like .com, .net, .mil, and .gov, and a handful of geographic suffixes. According to ICANN, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, there are currently 1,216 delegated suffixes, including many, like .xxx, .tattoo, .bike, .attorney, .bingo, .broker, .lol, and .pizza, that are administered by and for commercial purposes.

In each case, the suffixes are licensed by ICANN but administered by a third party, such as UKCI. For the most part, ICANN does not seek to enforce how delegated domains are operated, subject to certain contractual agreements that prohibit discriminatory practices.

According to Alison Simpson, senior manager for domain management at software company MarkMonitor, there is “real potential for companies to do creative branding” with domains like .art. But she expects that many companies will defensively register .art, and then not do anything with the domain.

Under Vidokle’s plan, e-flux will give art professionals and artists the opportunity to register a .art domain for a three-month period, after which the suffix will become more generally available. In its role as an arts organisation producing magazines, running a New York exhibition space and various affiliated arts projects, the body could offer UKCI, the owner of the .art domain, guidance.

Close to 100 arts organisations have signed up; some have already switched, including the Stedelijk museum in Amsterdam and Museo Tamayo in Mexico City. Others who have signed up but not switched include the Walker Art Centerin Minneapolis and DIA Art Foundation.

Attempts to commercialise art online have had mixed results, but with the internet changing virtually every kind of transaction, its effect on art is likely to increase – despite a lingering resistance to purchasing art on the internet.

“There have been many attempts to create viable commerce in art [online] but I’m not sure how successful they’ve been,” Vidokle says.

“The big question is authenticity. It is very difficult to tell if something is authentic from a small jpeg picture. If you don’t know what it is, or the website behind it, you’re very unlikely to buy it.”

MarkMonitor’s Alison Simpson doesn’t expect any rapid transformation.

“It’s going to be a long process. I don’t think there will be a huge uptake, because consumers don’t know .art is even available. Companies operating under .art will have to undertake a lot of advertising and it will take five to ten years to get it out there and to build trust.”

But the costs of digital adaptation, or the failure to adapt, are becoming clear. This week, the director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Thomas P Campbell resigned, in part over problems related to rebranding and the expansion of the institution’s digital presence.

Several well-known galleries, including Marlborough Contemporary and Andrea Rosen in New York, have merged or closed in recent weeks, in part over the difficulties of maintaining gallery spaces and the cost of exhibiting at art fairs, where a large proportion of sales are made.

All of which, says Vidokle, points to the increasing adoption of the internet, at least at the lower end of the market.

“As protocols around authenticity come into place, and as we try to prevent cyber-squatting or the kidnapping of identities and institutions, there is the possibility people will start purchasing more art online.” But, he warns, “it’s a slow process.”

Feminist Activism in China: In Conversation with Li Maizi 女权行动在中国:与李麦子的对话/ Tuesday 7th March


Next Tuesday (7th March) I’m going to be taking part in a conversation on Feminist Activism in China with Li Maizi 李麦子 (aka Li Tingting 李婷婷) of China’s ‘Feminist Five‘, one of the leading figures in global feminist and LGBTQIA+ networks.

I’m going to be joined on the panel by Harriet Evans, Tricia Kehoe, Monica Merlin and Xu Juan (of the art collective Bald Girls) and we’ll be discussing everything from women’s rights, equality and activism to the role of social media and performance art in raising awareness of gender discrimination. It promises to be a night of lively discussion and debate and anyone wishing to attend can register for free here via eventbrite.

For more information on Li Maizi, including her detention in 2015 and her gender equality advocacy, there is an interview here on China Change. This article by Maura Cunningham also provides some insightful background reading for anyone interested in learning more about the future of feminism in contemporary China.