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Celebrity Culture in Singapore: The Impact of Live Streaming

Initially, traditional media was a key arena for Singaporean celebrity culture. Many TV and radio personalities had the status of celebrities, and often these various forms of media were ways in which Singaporean people escaped the hustling working lifestyle. In 1993, with the initiation of satellite television, Singapore was exposed to a larger variety of celebrities from the region, particularly from the more culturally similar countries like Malaysia, Indonesia, and Thailand. Here, Stephanie Ho, Lin, and Chan coin the term “glocal imaginary,” which refers to the formation of a global multicultural society based on both local and global culture. They further argue that the local media personalities were “hardly a match for their East Asian counterparts in terms of both viewership and appeal”. This was the first shift in Singaporean celebrity culture as, for the first time, consumers of celebrities had more variety in choosing who their idols would be. The celebrity/fan power dynamic was still fairly limited as, despite having more access to Asian celebrities, Singaporeans would still be relatively detached when compared to fans of Western celebrities due to the limited interactivity between fans and celebrities that television offered.

This paper explores the impact of live streaming Singapore on celebrity culture in Singapore. It argues that live streaming has affected the power dynamic between celebrities and fans. We will first bring in the history of celebrity culture in Singapore as it is necessary to understand the nature of celebrity culture today. We concentrate on the time post-2000, where technological advances have shifted the way celebrities are being idolized due to the introduction of new media.

The Rise of Live Streaming in Singapore

Back when online platforms were still limited to personal computers, it was difficult to partake in live streaming compared to now, where almost everyone owns a smartphone device. Smartphones allow live streaming to be done anywhere as long as there is an internet connection. It can be inside the MRT, shopping mall, or even at the void deck. Smartphone apps being more user-friendly make it easier for the younger generation, who are less tech-savvy, to use compared to the traditional way with a personal computer and a webcam. This creates an alternative option compared to watching television. The high affinity of Singaporeans towards celebrities also plays a part in contributing to the popularity of live streaming Singapore. Viewers get to have real-time interaction with the celebrities, and some even manage to win virtual gifts from the events held during the live streaming. This gives them a sense of accomplishment and closeness to the celebrities, which may not be achieved by using traditional media.

Live streaming, a kind of entertainment in which the internet user “broadcasts” to an audience in real time, is a popular new phenomenon in Singapore. Live streaming in the current era is significantly different from traditional videos on demand. It is more interactive and can give greater pleasure to the audience as it feels “in the moment”. According to a survey on media usage conducted by Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore in 2015, the percentage of Singaporeans aged 15-24 who use live streaming has increased from 2% to 29%. Most of these users hit into the category at least once every two days. This shows that the amount of the younger generation who use live streaming is overwhelming compared to the other age categories. Some of the factors that contribute to the popularity of live streaming in Singapore are accessibility and affinity.

The Popularity of Live Streaming Platforms

Live streamers, many of whom are part-time hosts or amateurs, can also better express their individuality and creativity through stories, advice, skills, and talent in specialized or generalized content, and receive instant gratification, encouragement, and even gifts from viewers. Such features are especially attractive to youths who are digital natives and millennials, who are habitual multitaskers and seek some form of edutainment and self-improvement in their recreational activities. Viewers are not just passive audiences but are able to form niche communities, meet new friends and influencers, and even further their own aspirations of being amateur content creators or KOLs.

The popularity of live streaming can be attributed to its active participatory features and the facilitation of a personalized, interactive, and more ‘authentic’ experience of social interaction and networking. Its one-to-many and one-to-one communication formats take parasocial interaction to a new level; users are able to communicate with live streamers and other users in real time through sending text, audio, or video messages. This interactivity provides a sense of co-presence and intimacy between broadcasters and viewers, and a chance for users to receive immediate feedback or responses to their queries and comments.

One of the most significant developments in recent years is the emergence and intensification of live streaming platforms such as Bigo Live, and to a lesser extent, Twitch and Periscope, among young Singaporeans. The appeal of these online spaces has led to a massive increase in users – just two years after its launch in 2016, Bigo Live reported a 200% growth in monthly active users to reach 11 million in over 20 countries. This engagement with live streaming is more than just a passing fad, and reflects changes in how media is being consumed and produced in an age of globalization, digitalization, and mobility.

The Influence of Live Streaming on Celebrity Culture

Live streaming is heavily reliant on the personality of the streamer and the ability to interact with the streamer itself, with that interactivity also tending to divide fans between the streamer and the games being played. Traditional media audiences too are becoming more interested in accessibility to and personalities of celebrities. As live streaming and celebrity culture meet at these points, it’s rational to expect more and more celebrities, be they online personalities or those of traditional media, to interact with fans through streaming and attempt to market themselves in the same ways that lesser-known streamers do.

However, while the goal of these live streamers might be simply to share an in-game or real-life experience with viewers, the availability of that kind of content can detract from program viewership and have an effect on programming in the future. A humorous example of this is the PUBG community as shown by DrDisrespect, who played in a professional gaming tournament played the game in third-person mode, contrary to the first-person only mode which is intended to be competitive and is used in tournaments. DrDisrespect’s stream and a general backlash from the PUBG community saw the developers revert the game to third-person mode for some time, and celebrity-like personalities of esports and gaming communities can have large effects on those communities through their streamed acts.

There are two main ways in which live streaming is blurring lines between traditional forms of television and social media. Firstly, the media company that owns rights to a given TV show which is being live streamed, or a live streaming personality like Trump, may issue a DMCA takedown notice to the live streaming platform. The live streaming platform is then bound by the same laws which dictate the take down of copyrighted YouTube videos to comply and take down the content. This is what happened when DOTA2’s The International was being live streamed from TV in 2016. While in this instance it was a policy of using the DMCA notice and not direct legal action that ensured take down, we can expect live streaming platforms to eventually be licensed in the similar way to YouTube where copyright holders are compensated for use of copyrighted material on a platform. YouTube preaches that this method is helping to build a better ecosystem for the entire industry, though its success in mitigating issues and costs of copyright law has been debated, and it’s likely that similar issues and costs would befall live streaming. The second way involves the ad-hoc and amateur live streaming which is a significant and influential part of live streaming but in contrast to the material streamed from TV can fly under radar of copyright law.

The Impact of Live Streaming on Singaporean Celebrities

An apparent trend is seen with younger artistes who have gotten their start in the music/acting industry in recent years. Eager to promote their new releases, they take to live streaming platforms to hold sessions that discuss their recent works and better connect with fans. Live streaming creates a platform for greater fan engagement and interactivity. From the ability to “like” a video, post comments to engaging in a live conversation with a celebrity, fans can communicate more easily with their idols over virtual platforms. Elicia Lee, a member of local band Take Two, mentions in an interview that “We can talk to our fans more easily and vice versa. Sometimes, they’ll tell us they were really looking forward to the live stream as they had a tough day, and that really encourages us as well.” This greater ease of communication with fans has motivated celebrities to use live streaming as a way to better understand their fan base. With increased interaction through live streaming, celebrities are more in tune with the needs of their fans, and it has become easier to gauge public opinion on various issues.

Live streaming has become increasingly popular over the recent years, with more people having access to high-speed internet, allowing for better connectivity and higher quality videos. The accessibility and convenience of live streaming have attracted celebrities in Singapore as they are able to talk with fans in real-time and share with them an intimate, behind-the-scenes look into their everyday lives. An example is local singer-songwriter Nathan Hartono and his many appearances in Toggle Originals – Double Take, where he broadcasts live performances to his fans. With a computer and an internet connection, or simply an iPhone, celebrities are able to interact with fans at any time and any place.

This section introduces the impact of live streaming on Singaporean celebrities. It covers the increased accessibility of celebrities due to live streaming, allowing fans to interact with celebrities across virtual platforms. However, this interaction comes with its downsides, as discussed in the second subsection. Live streaming has also changed the way celebrity marketing and branding is done, attracting potential researchers to look into this area for future studies. Hence, this essay paves the way for a better understanding of the concept of live streaming, its implications, and how it has impacted the celebrity culture in Singapore.

Increased Accessibility and Fan Engagement

The goal of fan engagement is to build an emotional connection between the fan and the public figure, as engaged fans tend to be much more supportive. Live streaming offers many ways to effectively do this. For the most part, fans can ask questions and provide the opportunity for the public figure to show a more personal side by answering them. There’s also potential for the fans to offer feedback on past, present, and future work. A more casual approach is also viable, with the public figure being able to essentially ‘hang out’ with his/her fan base and being able to dictate the structure of this hangout. This can involve anything from talking about recent life events, commentating on work, or simply showing off previously unseen talents and personality traits.

Live streaming has encouraged more Singaporean celebrities to subscribe to an online space for fans to interact and build rapport. This instant form of fan engagement has redefined the old paradigm of public figure and fan interaction. For the most part, interaction in the past had been in the form of meet and greet sessions, fan club letters, or if fans were lucky, the brief encounter and photo opportunity. Understandably, such events usually cater to a specific demographic with specific tastes; streaming, however, has the potential for the public figure to interact with the entire fan base or a wider demographic at once.

Challenges and Pressures Faced by Celebrities

In recent years, there has also been a surge in internet-based criticism, and it’s something that the celebrities of today have to come to terms with. With the anonymity offered by the internet, fans and critics alike have no reservations about making scathing comments against public figures. When asked in an interview how he felt about netizens who often make personal attacks on artistes, a local musician commented, “They can say what they like to say, it doesn’t affect me. Everyone has their own opinions and judgments on each other”. While this may be a dismissive move, it is clear that those in the public eye are affected. An example would be a local TV presenter and former radio DJ who recently penned an open letter to her online critics. Going by the moniker “it’s only words,” she laid bare her feelings over the personal attacks she has received and claimed that it had made her “guarded and cynical.” These attacks and other forms of criticism have led to an increase in stress levels among artistes. This is exacerbated by the fact that Singaporean celebrities often feel that they have no one to turn to. A local entertainment blogger recently commented that artistes commonly have no support groups and can feel very alone in the industry. All these pressures and challenges have taken a toll on many a celebrity, and such effects are likely to be more prominent with the increased visibility live streaming is offering fans.

A constant factor in both attainable goals for aspiring celebrities and the high-profile stars themselves is the immense pressures and challenges involved with being in the media limelight. According to the survey, Singaporean celebrities feel that they are constantly in the public eye and have very little privacy. This is especially true in the age of live streaming. Fans these days tend to follow their favorite celebrities around with the likes of an online stalker, and the more popular the celebrity, the more likely they are to be tailed on and offline. One popular lifestyle personality revealed her discomfort when fans would turn up to her house, having discovered her address online, asking for photographs and autographs. When questioned as to whether he would want to be an artiste in today’s society, a local undergraduate replied, “No, I see how most of the artistes have no privacy now, every move that they make is being judged by someone somewhere”. With the watchful eye of the media and their fans comes a need to be constantly putting up a good image. Many artistes complain that they are unable to be themselves in fear that the media will twist their actions or words, and it is common knowledge that one wrong move can severely damage an entertainer’s career, e.g., a prominent local actor being caught with drugs in 2006.

Changes in Celebrity Marketing and Branding

The rise of live streaming also brought about changes in how celebrities market and brand themselves. In the past, celebrity endorsement of products and social causes often took the form of traditional advertising campaigns; implied endorsements by celebrities who were spotted using a particular product were also not uncommon. Today, however, a larger number of companies are opting to engage celebrities for marketing purposes through event-based marketing centered on live streaming, with the product or brand being integrated into the content of the live stream. This form of product placement is very effective because it has a chance to resonate with the fan on a more personal and spontaneous level due to being part of the content, and it is also intrinsically more subtle than traditional methods of product endorsement. Considering that live streaming often features a degree of impromptu behavior and unpolished presentation due to its live nature, a scripted product endorsement may seem out of place. An example of this would be when celebrity Felicia Chin was engaged by Starhub to promote the 2016 Rio Olympics via a series of live streams where she interacted with fans, shared her experiences in Rio as well as her personal fitness tips. This served in part as a build up to her appearance in the Starhub sponsored national team send-off event, and Starhub VP of brand and marketing communications revealed that the Ultimate Access event-based campaign featuring Felicia had led to a significant increase in brand and event association, as well as increased customer viewership of the Olympics through Starhub. Live stream event-based marketing has the potential to be a significant source of income for celebrities and a less effortful way of getting endorsements due to the fact that it allows the content to be created around the endorsed product. Data analytics company MediaKix predicts that a live streamer with 10,000 viewers can make $300 from a simple product mention to $5,000 from a more complex and lengthy product demonstration, but noted that compensation can go even higher with high viewer engagement and success in getting the product message across.

The Future of Celebrity Culture in Singapore

Evidently, this is an evolved form of interaction with fans compared to standard parasocial relationships with traditional media, radio, and television, as well as live streaming offers a more intimate and direct form of contact and communication. This implies that there is a high possibility that live streaming could replace current media forms, as it is a “more real to life way of seeing someone”, giving viewers the chance to see celebrities in a reality-like state. With the high uptake on technology by youth and the trend of replacing traditional forms of media, it could be inferred that future generations will become accustomed to viewing live streams as the main source of media and interaction with celebrities. This could mean that there may be a dramatic shift in fan and celebrity culture and how celebrities are expected to behave and interact with their fans.

Zhou’s research has focused on the implications and future of live streaming. She argues that “live streaming has become a new popular way of marketing and it allows the audience to interact with the celebrities”. This type of marketing is a mass self-communication enabling parasocial interaction (PSI) between streamer and viewer. PSI is “a form of quasi-interaction, … an imagined interaction, where a viewer gets the feeling that they are interacting with the other” and has forever been a part of the relationship between celebrity and audience.

Evolving Trends in Live Streaming

With the internet now a mature, widely accessible and mobile-connected technology, live streaming – a one-to-many form of video communication transmitted over the internet in real-time – has become an affordable and mainstream means of communication. Live streaming viewership has increased by 81% in the Singapore market. M17 entertainment company and Meekco.Asia agree in 2019, expecting to increase a further 20-30% in total. Live streaming plays straight to the audience in real time, where viewers can interact and influence the flow of the broadcast. This essentially creates shared experiences between the celebrities and their fans, forming or enhancing a parasocial relationship. Live streaming often presents endless new content varieties and unique cultural experiences, showing higher rates of viewer interactions and longer viewing time. Such attributes make live streaming an attractive and sustainable method of fan engagement for both celebrities and fans. Traditional media companies have also recognized the potential in live streaming and started their own content production. Mediacorp for example has created “Xing Le Live” on YES 933, which brings in local artists for live interviews and game challenges. Customer demand has grown, and private companies have engaged artists towards endorsing live stream applications and events. Live streaming has become more appealing to artists as the door has opened to exploit one’s own creativity for content marketing and self-brand creation. Live streaming will continue to align with the globalized age of the internet with increasing demand of mobile and data usage. The current Singapore Government “Smart Nation” initiative has also influenced the growth of digital technology integration and media industry. As technology advances, an increase of virtual reality and augmented reality technology will be integrated with live streaming, offering immersive and interactive experiences beyond the capabilities of traditional media. An example is given by Singtel and Asia’s leading communications group Singtel who have recently launched a new tie up with Razer to create a cloud gaming service and data package for mobile users. The upcoming gaming industry trend towards cloud gaming services facilitates potential cross-marketing of live stream events and gaming content hosted by celebrities.

Potential Benefits and Risks for Celebrities

This would provide a stark contrast to offline promotional events. There’s no necessity to hold events at public locations, and it’s a chance to generate a significant amount of interest with minimal effort and little to no cost. Engaging a wider audience would mean increased popularity for the artiste, and this ties in with the second objective: a useful tool to help promote an artiste’s identity and hopefully gain recognition from the audience.

Live streaming is also considered to be more engaging than an offline video because the audience has an opportunity to interact with the broadcaster in real-time. Viewers are able to post comments and questions, and the broadcaster can reply. It’s almost a 2-way conversation. An example would be a Mediacorp artiste, Shane Pow, using Bigo Live to interact with his fans. He took the opportunity to promote Bigo Live to his fans and Parade and also mentioned a sharing session with fans. He was effectively on the site as there was quite a large audience for a local celebrity.

With the digital age, live streaming is a convenient platform for people because it’s easy to use and easily available on our smartphones. It is essentially a form of entertainment for viewers while being cost-free or low-cost. This could be advantageous for a local celebrity as a marketing tool to reach out to a wider audience, as such a large portion of the populace is on social media and has access to smartphones.

Live video streaming involves using an app on a smartphone to broadcast live video to the public. It is a feature offered by a few social media platforms. An app that is currently gaining popularity is Bigo Live. It has received mixed reviews from the public, but many celebrities have used this app as a means to communicate with their fans. Conversely, streaming is not limited to a particular app, with Instagram and Facebook having similar features.

This section covers the important things which are the potential benefits and risks for a celebrity when live streaming their lifestyle, routines, and such. There are two sides to each story. We will analyze the benefits and risks that a local celebrity would have to face when they decide to embark on such a journey.

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