On March 14, professional gamer Ninja (real name: Tyler Blevin), made history when he and some unlikely friends broke the record for concurrent viewership on Twitch. The game? Fortnite. His crew? Hip-hop artist Drake, rapper Travis Scott, and Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Juju Smith-Schuster.
At one point in the evening, 628,000 people across the globe tuned in to watch the odd foursome play the online shooter. It was a watershed moment for Twitch in particular and livestreaming in general. Literally overnight, the once-niche platform became as mainstream as, well, hip-hop and the NFL.
There is money to be made in the growing livestreaming industry, usually through digital tips and gifts. Top livestreamers on Twitch boast annual revenues in the millions of dollars. Many others have built humbler, but still notable careers on the platform.
In the United States and China, tipping revenue will soon exceed box office receipts. Unfortunately, the global livestreaming economy is largely limited to those two spheres.
Many countries, like the Philippines, have had no livestreaming economy to speak of, which is unfortunate. Outside of a few tech startups founders, the only real way Filipinos make money online is through freelance, contractual work — often outsourced labor for foreign clients.
They may be paid well, but they are ultimately doing the work — digital marketing, SEO, content creation — for someone else. At the end of the day, they’re simply individual specialists in a foreign company’s sprawling back-office.
In sharp contrast, a local livestreaming economy would give many Filipinos a chance to earn directly from their talents. If they were to capitalize on this market, they could reach an audience, build a fan base, and hone their craft, all while doing so sustainably, if not profitably.
Tech company Kumu is introducing this concept to the Philippines. Founded by Roland Ros, Rexy Dorado, Andrew Pineda, and Clare Ros, Kumu is a content mobile app available on both Android and iOS with livestreaming as its core feature.
As of the moment, Kumu’s most popular livestreaming show is “Quiz Mo Ko”, a trivia game hosted by comedian and actor Maui Manalo, where audience members — every user that tunes in — can compete for cash prizes by answering questions in real-time.
This month, Kumu will be launching virtual tipping and gifting features. While the feature is by no means revolutionary — it is a staple after all of every mature livestreaming platform in China and in the United States — its application to the Filipino context is notable.
Up until the launch of this feature, Filipino performers have had to rely on what is essentially a talent lottery: They can either hope to win a national show like “The Voice” or be discovered by a television network executive.
In the same way that the gifting economy has allowed non-traditional talents in China to earn a living from their livestreaming efforts, Kumu CEO Roland Ros wants the same to happen in the Philippines. He envisions a world where everyone from a jeepney driver to a BPO worker and a college student to a professional comedian can monetize their talents through a direct connection with their audience.
While Kumu is still in the very early stages, Filipino creatives and content creators should give the platform a close look and consider even joining early. Many of the household names that have made it big on now traditional platforms like YouTube began by recognizing the potential of the medium, and taking the leap.
As for the rest of us non-content creators (like me!), all we can do is sit back and watch — if not Kumu’s individual shows, then the platform’s ambitious bid to showcase the best of Filipino talent and creativity.
Ma. Flordelin Ensomo is a Certified Public Accountant. She currently works as an Audit Associate at SGV and Co.