Restaurants are filming cooking demos in their empty kitchens, while bars and clubs are throwing online raves.
Live-streaming, already a booming industry in China, is experiencing a new wave of popularity as many cities remain locked down and millions are staying home to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
The outbreak has hit China’s economy overall, with most restaurants and markets empty, but businesses are making do by shifting their focus online to cater to customers confined to their homes.
Restaurant chains like Sichuan-style Meizhou Dongpo, fast food franchise Zhen Kung Fu, and hotpot chain Xiabu Xiabu have been live-streaming shows from their empty kitchens, where chefs have been recreating items from their menu to convince viewers to order takeout.
The quarantine measures have led to a sharp increase in live-streaming overall in the first few months of the year, according to a QuestMobile report.
Over the recent Lunar New Year period, users on China’s TikTok spent an average of 99 minutes on the app each day, compared to 67 minutes during the same time last year.
Kuaishou, its closest competitor, also saw a rise in average daily usage time from 44 minutes to 71 minutes during the same period, the report said.
With the increase in viewer traffic, one TikTok user literally made money in his sleep.
The amateur actor, who goes by the username Yuansan, first live-streamed himself sleeping on Feb. 9, saying he wanted to verify whether he snores.
He woke up to find that his stream had attracted hundreds of thousands of views and about 800,000 new followers for his channel.
Viewers reportedly gave him virtual gifts worth up to $11,000.
A repeat performance attracted more than 18 million viewers, baffling even Yuansan.
“I was bored so I decided to live-stream myself sleeping,” he said in a follow-up video, “but I didn’t think [people] would be even more bored than I was.”
Traditional farmers in China, struggling to sell their produce through physical markets due to the outbreak, are also increasingly turning to live-streaming platforms to clear stock.
One live stream on Taobao, for instance, helped a farmer sell nearly 5,000 kilograms of tomatoes, 7,500 kilograms of cucumbers. and 3,000 kilograms of strawberries.
Its live-streaming feature saw rapid growth this month, with the number of broadcasts doubling from last year, according to Alibaba, which owns Taobao.
Alibaba is the parent company of the South China Morning Post, which owns Goldthread.
Even bars and clubs have used live-streaming as a lifeline to prop up their badly-hit business.
On Feb. 8, Shanghai bar TAXX live-streamed music acts on TikTok for four hours, with peak audience reaching 71,000 people who shelled out nearly $100,000 in tips to the musicians.
A few days later, dozens of night clubs and bars across China started setting up live streams on Kuaishou.
One analyst, though, was skeptical that the sharp increase in traffic to live-streaming sites would continue in the long term.
“Once the outbreak is under control, the traditional offline industry will bounce back,” said Zhang Dingding, the former head of Beijing-based research firm Sootoo Institute. “Conversely, the rapid online traffic growth will moderate to a more reasonable level.”
Adapted from an article first published in the South China Morning Post.