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Live streaming becomes a growing livelihood in Vietnam

Broadcasting video games and selling goods using live-streaming is now a real profession in Vietnam, where a tech-savvy population lives and breathes social media.

Pham Thanh Nam has been "shooting" people for a living for the last five years, not in real life, but in a game he broadcasts to thousands of viewers every day.

Nam, or Nam Blue, one of the most popular Vietnamese streamers of the first person shooting game PUBG, broadcasts his games on Facebook for six hours a day, and now has 1.5 million followers.

The 29-year-old who has given up his business to focus entirely on streaming, says: "A decade ago most Vietnamese would have said gaming has no future, but game streaming is now a job. Many people and I take seriously."

Industry insiders say top streamers in Vietnam earn thousands of dollars a month from followers' donations and ads. Many companies, seeing the rising popularity of game streaming, are now paying streamers to promote their products to young consumers.

This makes Nam one of an increasing number of Vietnamese choosing streaming as their profession amid the country's increasing Internet penetration and e-commerce growth. 

Broadcasting games and selling products are currently the two most popular streaming jobs. Bre Miller, a product design manager at Facebook, said in June 2019 that Vietnam has among the largest number of people in the world watching live game streams.

Last year Vietnam had 15 million esports players and 5.2 million people who regularly watched esports streams, according to digital platform developer Appota.

Industry insiders estimate there are thousands of Vietnamese streaming games on Facebook, thanks to the rising interest in competitive gaming. 

Each of Nam's streaming sessions gets around 500,000 views and a peak of two million. Nam's followers surged 2.5-fold in just over a year.

He also manages a group of 12 other streamers. His audience comprises mostly males aged 24-35. They could become a supporter of his page by paying VND47,000 ($2) a month in return for exclusive content.

This rising popularity of game streaming in Vietnam is aligned with the global trend. On Facebook Gaming, the streaming time grew by 210 percent last year to 356 million hours, according to live-stream production tool provider StreamElements.

Dang Thai Son, marketing director of Appota, said the increasing popularity of live streaming and esports among young Vietnamese means they could gradually replace traditional forms of entertainment.

Live shopping

Commercial streaming is also gaining traction among Vietnamese shoppers. 

Hong Quan visits a fashion store in Hanoi's Thanh Xuan District every day, not to shop for clothes, but to film them with a phone camera and stream the images to thousands of viewers.

Since he constantly appears in the shop's live videos and even offers discounts, the 20-year-old university student could be mistaken for the shop owner though he is only hired to host live Facebook videos to market the goods.

Quan, who has been doing this job for almost a year, says: "Streaming is not a usual job for most people, but I take it seriously. It offers good pay with short working time for a student like me."

On the Facebook news feed, a user can find dozens of live videos in which a variety of products like clothes, footwear, sunglasses, watches, and skin care products are presented, often by a host wearing an attractive outfit and with an enthusiastic and fun attitude.

Sellers could appear on the stream themselves, or hire someone like Quan to sell the products for two or three sessions a day, each last 90-120 minutes.

Quan is paid VND300,000 ($13) per session, but he is usually hired for the whole month for VND10 million ($434), which includes a commission on orders, the same amount an office employee might earn.

"I could get shop owners 20-30 orders per session, adding to their revenues from the brick-and-mortar store."

Since Facebook introduced its live streaming feature in 2016 small businesses in Vietnam have been taking advantage of it to promote their products just like in China and Thailand.

Vietnam ranks seventh in the world in the number of Facebook users, 58 million, according to U.K. advertising agency We Are Social.

It accounted for 30.9 percent of e-commerce web traffic in Southeast Asia in the third quarter of 2019, second only to Indonesia, according to Malaysian market researcher iPrice Group.

percentage of trafficE-commerce web traffic in Southeast Asia46.946.925.725.710.810. Group

All this means small businesses can use live streams to reach new buyers and even as their main selling channel since it saves them the cost of listing on large e-commerce websites or buying expensive target ads.

A streamer only needs a smartphone and a good Internet connection to do the job. Advanced streamers could buy a lighting kit to better showcase products. Once the streamer has ended the session, sales staff start making phone calls to customers to confirm orders.

While setting up a stream is simple, doing it well takes great skill and effort. Thao Sang, a senior college student in Ho Chi Minh City who sells clothes, often has to talk non-stop for three hours to keep her audience interested.

"There were times when I lost my voice or got sick after sessions."

Besides, there is pressure to achieve sales targets while women streamers say they have to suffer sexual and abusive comments to earn a salary of VND200,000-300,000 ($9-13) for a 90-minute session.

But all the effort is worth it when customers place orders. Mai Hoa of Hanoi, an avid Facebook user, has in recent months been watching four or five live streams a day from her favorite shops to find clothes and accessories.

Last month the 25-year-old received a 30 percent discount on a skin lotion and lipsticks for just sharing the stream with three public groups.

"It took me less than a minute to place the order, and I received exactly what I wanted three days later. The physical shop was in Saigon, but it was also beneath my fingertips."

Buyers say real time interaction is what they like most about live streams, as they can ask questions or make suggestions by just typing a comment instead of having to wait for hours or days after sending a message to an inbox.

The engagement also benefits sellers since they can ask their audience to share the stream with friends and groups to increase their reach. Streamers often reward sharers with discounts or limited products, and can thus attract 250,000 views and 20,000 comments in a session.

Communications expert Nguyen Ngoc Long says streaming has become trendy because Facebook prioritizes live streams more than texts and regular videos, and sellers love this because they can reach more people.

Some companies have been using celebrities and social media influencers to promote their products on live streams.

Even Singapore-based shopping giant Lazada has been using the live streaming feature since 2017. Its app has a LazLive section for Vietnamese sellers to promote their products.

Long says, "Live streaming will continue to be popular in Vietnam for the next five to 10 years."

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