VIRTUAL CABARETS: A STUDY ON TANGO AND BIGO LIVE LIVE BROADCAST APPLICATIONS
Dr. SERRA SEZGİN
Social live-streaming platforms which came into existence as a result of the developments in social media and digital platforms and where broadcasters and viewers interact in chat rooms differentiate from video broadcasting on video sharing platforms such as YouTube where users upload a video which can be watched by the viewers at any time repeatedly (Scheibe & co. 2016: 7). With this development, other platforms such as YouTube or Instagram also started offering live-streaming services as in YouTube Live and Instagram Live. In recent years, several applications focusing on social live-streaming services (SLSSs) have been popularised. Being providers of social live-streaming services, these platforms function in such a way that broadcasters can stream live videos using their own devices such as a smartphone or a computer to be rewarded by their viewers through donations, gifts, likes or subscriptions (Scheibe & co. 2016: 7). This structure offers broadcasters the opportunity to earn money on a regular basis.
The discussion in this report revolves around the question of how the broadcasters on Tango and Bigo Live generate income through using these applications. The purpose of the paper is to reveal the strategies employed by the broadcasters to generate income within the framework of the opportunities offered and restrictions put by the applications in the digitalised entertainment market. In the report, livestreams on both platforms were followed systematically using a free account between October, 2022 and March, 2023. During this period, the structure of the platforms, interactions between the broadcasters and contents were observed. The livestreams observed were restricted to the ones which were under the categories, “near me” and “popular”. In doing so, the research focused on a specific region, Ankara/Turkey, and only Turkish broadcasts were followed. The observation has resulted in these findings:
- Tango and Bigo Live are social live-streaming applications with millions of users worldwide, which are popular platforms that offer broadcasters the opportunity to generate income. These applications have functions such as chat, video chat and call, which allows users to communicate and interact with their friends or other persons unknown to them. However, there are variations when it comes to individual user experiences. Following the logic of the digitalisation of entertainment, the applications allow users/broadcasters to generate income. Within this economic structure, what strikes the eye regarding these applications are the reflections of the entertainment culture and sector based on erotic and pornographic content. In this respect, practices which are utilised by the users on these platforms, which are referred to as “virtual pavilion” in this paper, are worth analysing as they offer an insight into the transformation of the relationship between a platform and its users.
- Turkish word, pavyon, which is a special kind of a club, originates from the French word, pavillon. It describes the entertainment venues which are open until the late hours of the night and where people visit to dance, listen to music or watch a show (Satır, 2014: 224). In these clubs, women who are employed as hostesses accompany the guests at their tables during the whole night or for a specified time period. Each woman can either have regular customers or they can employ certain strategies to generate demand (Satır, 2014: 235). Nevertheless, although these women use their sex appeal in their contact with the guests, they are only performers, they do not engage in any kind of sexual intercourse.
- Users on Tango and Bigo Live utilise strategies also used by the hostesses working at pavilions to such an extent that live-stream resembles a pavilion scene. Female broadcasters wait for new participants to join the watch party dancing and wearing revealing clothes (Satır, 2014; 236). In addition to the facilities they have in a pavilion, users also have the opportunity to keep their faces and identities secret while performing on virtual pavilions.
- Users can watch every live-stream by scrolling down the screen, comment on a broadcast in a way that other participants as well as the broadcaster can see. Interactions include sending likes, subscriptions and, most importantly, viewers can send several items of financial value to the broadcaster. Fan groups can be formed as a result of which there can be a more exclusive interaction between a broadcaster and their followers.
- Similar to the pavilions, profit or income depends on the performance and the services offered also in virtual pavilions. Among the factors which define the performance, one can mention the physical appearance of the women, their method of interaction (chat, dance, etc.) and the services they offer. In the broadcasts which are analysed, it has been observed that the broadcasters interact with the users in several ways. Some broadcasters dance whereas others chat with the participants. Moreover, some other broadcasters stream joint videos with the participation of other broadcasters accompanying and complementing each other.
- Some of the channels which use multiple broadcasting controlled by men while women share the duties among themselves to stream a live video such as responding to comments, managing the interaction or offering services to encourage gifts from the viewers. Among these services, what takes the first place is meeting in a private chat room and sending exclusive, mostly pornographic content to the person who has sent a valuable gift. This content is sent via another app like WhatsApp or Telegram, which reveals how multiple platforms are employed in virtual pavilions. Contents are produced mainly to appeal to male fantasies.
- Tango and Bigo Live have certain rules including restrictions regarding nudity and erotic content. Nonetheless, these rules are violated by many broadcasters. One of the ways to violate these rules is chanelling the participants to other channels where the pre-recorded contents are shared. In many other examples, the exclusive content is produced for “premium” members as there are more than one tiers of membership depending on the financial benefit they offer. This situation points out that these broadcasts are not controlled tightly. Another aspect of this weak control mechanism is that there are males who control and moderate livestreams. These males play the role of the headwaiters employed at the pavilion.
- Finally, social live-streaming platforms stand as the extension of the income model which is based on the production of erotic contents and indirect distribution of pornographic contents. At this point, it seems necessary to reevaluate the technological and social developments of today’s world. Another aspect of the issue calls us to discuss the inequalities pointed out by the platform capitalism where there is a link between financial gain and erotic contents. However, while doing so, one needs to refrain from criticising the situation from a conservative viewpoint.
Dr. Serra Sezgin has been serving as a faculty member and department head at Ankara Science University’s New Media and Communication Department since 2020. She graduated from Hacettepe University’s Communication Sciences Master’s Program (2013) and completed her PhD in the Journalism Department of Ankara University (2019). Her doctoral thesis, “Digital Game Ecosystem: Creative Industry and Labor”, was published as an e-book (Alternatif Bilişim Derneği, 2020). She has academic research and publications in the fields of new media, creative industries, labor, and game studies.