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Meet the millennials who are making a living from livestreaming

Imagine earning a living by pointing a camera at yourself and chatting with people who then send you valuable gifts

Would you livestream every aspect of your life? If you’re not a pop star or reality TV wannabe, the answer is probably no. But if you could earn more than £100 an hour for sitting in your bedroom talking to strangers around the world, would that tempt you to turn the camera on yourself?

As an estate agent, Josh Day spends hours on his phone speaking to property buyers and sellers. But when he’s finished for the day the 22-year-old flicks on his camera and chats with some of his almost 37,000 fans on the livestreaming platform Live.me. Whether he’s playing games or just chatting, for every session that he’s “entertaining” his bank balance increases thanks to people sending him virtual gifts, which he can later redeem for cash, in a bid to attract his attention.

Day lives in Huddersfield and started livestreaming in August last year after stumbling across the app one evening. In his second session he attracted 7,000 views and a stranger gifted him a virtual castle worth $200 (£150). “It was unreal,” he says. “I was just in my bedroom talking day-to-day stuff and having a prat around. I screamed and ran to tell my mum! From there it just went from great to amazing.”

On another occasion a stranger sent him gifts worth $1,400. “I kind of freaked out – it felt like winning four numbers on the lottery. I never expected to make money from it.”

Day typically spends 10-12 hours a week on the platform, earning an average of about $2,400 a month after Live.me takes its cut. While he generously spends a chunk of his virtual currency on gifts for other broadcasters, he often cashes in. The extra income has helped him save for a deposit for a house. “It’s helped me get on the property ladder – I wouldn’t have done so otherwise. I also bought my girlfriend a Mulberry bag.”

Following the rise in popularity of livestreaming platforms such as Facebook Live and Periscope, more millennials are choosing to share private moments of their lives for a slice of mini-stardom. But can it really prove to be a money-maker, too? For every Day there are thousands of others who come away empty-handed. For most it takes time and effort (and perhaps a flash of the flesh helps, too: a cursory tour around Live.me seems to indicate that more skin equals more viewers) for the dollar signs to start rolling in. But for those who can command huge audiences, perhaps livestreaming will be the latest internet moneyspinner following the rise of blogging and vlogging as professions over the past decade.

“Live broadcasting is becoming a digital career in the same way YouTube and Instagram are platforms for influencers,” says Live.me chief executive, Yuki He. “We have broadcasters earning $20,000 a week or more from virtual gifts, and have heard from many people that they have quit their jobs in order to put more effort into broadcasting and work on it full time.”

A regular YouTuber with more than 100,000 subscribers, Emma Jacobs*, a 29-year-old from London, was recently chosen to become one of the YouNow platform’s 4,000 “partners” – someone able to earn money from fans sending virtual gifts via the app. YouNow claims its top broadcasters rake in up to $200,000 a year. Jacobs entertains her audience by livestreaming herself with exotic animals such as meerkats and crocodiles, and her own pets which include snakes and giant cockroaches.

“People love to see the animals,” she says. “I talk about whether they make good pets, how people can get over their fear of holding a tarantula, or how to tame their pet.” She earned £75 in half an hour on her first livestream. “I had no idea people could make money by doing this,” she says.

The YouNow founder and chief executive, Adi Sideman, says that while anyone has the potential to earn money, streaming live means broadcasters have to engage with viewers. “You don’t have to be especially outgoing, but the better broadcasters find interesting and unique ways to include the viewers in conversation and notice their fans.”

While livestreaming has exploded in popularity, it also has a sinister side. Platforms such as Facebook Live have seen police shootings and suicides played out live in front of viewers, while there have been reports of paedophiles using livestreaming apps to groom children. In August the Metropolitan police announced that a convicted paedophile from London who incited a young girl into sexual activity over Live.me had been jailed for four years.

The platforms say they are geared up to tackle this. “Live broadcasting is a newer way that people connect with social media, but all the same, best internet safety practices still apply,” says He. “Broadcasters starting out should be familiar with the multiple reporting and blocking functions which help keep broadcasts a safe and fun experience.”

Meanwhile, YouNow says its moderators work 24/7 responding to users who flag up any issues and adds that anyone has the ability to block others.

Live.me
Live.me broadcaster Josh Day. Photograph: Handout

Jacobs is aware of the dangers of being an online personality. “I had a lot of cyber-hate a couple of weeks ago on YouTube. People were saying negative and really hurtful things such as ‘go kill yourself’, and telling me I deserved to be hunted because they say I keep animals in enclosures.” She says you have to develop a thick skin. “Every time you go live or post something, it’s like putting a massive target on your forehead. It’s not for everyone.”

With the income Jacobs is earning, she intends to invest in new office space and save for a property. But she has a word of warning for those looking to jump on the bandwagon: “People think it’s glam that you can be making money from home, but you have to work hard. You have to keep people engaged and coming back to you. You can’t just go live and be a multimillionaire.”

Day, meanwhile, is toying with the idea of quitting his job to invest more time on the app. “Live.me is a growing thing now, with a lot of money flowing through the app. I could live off the money quite easily.”

Like the vloggers and bloggers before him, perhaps he’s on to something.

* Emma asked for her surname to be changed.

Virtually coining it in

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So what are virtual gifts and how are they converted into cash? A number of livestreaming platforms use this model – for example, Live.me’s website says users can buy virtual coins and gifts and send these to broadcasters, at which point they are converted into virtual diamonds in their account. When they pass certain thresholds the broadcasters are able to convert the diamonds into money.

It’s not an entirely transparent system: Live.me’s terms state that “the value (ie, the exchange rate) of the virtual items is determined by [the] company in its sole discretion, based on your country of origin”.

And this paragraph of small print might also raise some eyebrows: “Notwithstanding your purchase or possession of such virtual items, you acknowledge and agree that you do not in fact ‘own’ the virtual items, and the amounts of any virtual item do not refer to any credit balance of real currency or its equivalent. Rather, [the] company grants you a limited license to use the service, including software programs that may manifest themselves as these items.”

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