Walking around his hometown of College Station, Texas, last summer, 21-year-old social media star Aaron Doh began to get stopped for pictures. Fans recognized him from Vine, where he had racked up 1 million followers by August 2015.
“I think that’s when I hit my peak,” said Doh, a budding comedian who performs on social media rather than in clubs.
Needless to say, Twitter’s recent announcement that it planned to kill Vine was a bummer. For some young social media celebrities, it brought an end to a source of income. Vine stars could charge as much as six figures for a sponsored video, The Wall Street Journal reports.
For Doh, it would obliterate the massive following he spent years building.
The sandy-haired aspiring actor has a plan B. Live.ly, an app that spun off from the video network Musical.ly over the summer, is an emerging live-streaming platform that debuted to half a million downloads in its first week. Live.ly lets users make monetary contributions, which the app calls “gifts,” during their favorite users’ streams.
An increasing number of Vine expats, including Doh, have turned to Live.ly to make a quick buck by talking to fans who tune in. Some rely on the app’s monetization model as a source of income and argue it could one day compete with YouTube and Instagram in terms of ad dollars offered.
“Live.ly is paying my rent, paying my bills, so I don’t have to worry about putting food on the table,” Doh told Business Insider. “It’s not traditional by any means.”
2016 saw a mass exodus of stars from Vine. Over half of the app’s top 1% of users stopped posting by the start of the year, according to the online data portal Statista. Since Vine announced in October that it would shut down “in the coming months,” the app has bled even more users. People can still log in and download their videos from Vine as keepsakes.
It’s not a total surprise Vine threw in the towel. The app faced fierce competition.
“Snapchat and Instagram have taken off on the short-form video side, YouTube has always been a giant on the longer-form side, and there are a million different services in between,” Business Insider’s Jeff Dunn wrote in October.
Live.ly is one of those in-between services with the most potential. But unless you’re in middle school or know a child who’s around that age, you’ve probably never heard of it.
Musical.ly, a fast-rising video network with over 150 million users, spun off the live-streaming app in June. People – mostly teens – upload 15-second videos of themselves lip-syncing, dancing, and performing comedy skits. The two apps feed each other traffic by notifying users when their favorite Musical.ly stars begin streams on Live.ly.
Within 24 hours of launching, Live.ly jumped over 100 chart positions to No. 1 in the App Store. The company did not disclose the number of downloads to date.
Vine and Live.ly aren’t one-to-one rivals. While Vine stars create carefully produced six-second bursts of content, Live.ly stars just hit record and talk at their phones. Viewers leave comments and engage with the host in real time. Streams can go on for hours. The longer the stream, the more money you’re likely to make, Doh says.
Though the apps are different, Live.ly fills a void left by Vine’s collapse: Young people with a smartphone and time to kill can earn a living making videos.
Bart Baker, the self-proclaimed king of music video parodies, has became a top-earning broadcaster on Live.ly. He cut his teeth making videos on Vine and YouTube, where he has over 8.7 million subscribers. His following on Live.ly pales in comparison, but Baker says he generates enough on the platform to cover his overhead costs.
“For some people, what I’m making off Live.ly you could live off of. If you do it every day for four hours a day, you could probably pull in 30 grand a month,” Baker told Business Insider.
Cameron Dallas, the floppy-haired darling of Vine with 9.6 million followers, also made the leap to Live.ly. He’s featured prominently in the app’s tutorial and is an avid Musical.ly user.
The top 10 broadcasters on Live.ly made $46,000 on average over two weeks, according to data provided by Musical.ly. The average stream lasts about 30 minutes.
Doh does not rank among the app’s top-earning broadcasters, but he still manages to support himself on gifts from fans. On a typical day, he holds between one and three sessions, each lasting about 90 minutes, and earns anywhere from $800 to $1,900.
His streams show Doh shooting the breeze with viewers and using funny voices. When a fan makes a contribution, Doh receives a notification that shows the person’s username. He takes the opportunity to thank the fan aloud and sometimes follows their account back.
An analytics tool allows Doh to see his top supporters of the week. There are a few “regulars” he can count on to send money, though Doh says it’s not the most stable source of income.
A few weeks ago, he made a record $1,900 from a single session.
“The funny thing was, it wasn’t really different from any other live stream. It was the person who came [into the stream],” Doh said. “You get lucky with the type of people sometimes.”
Live.ly sounds like an easy way for kids to blow through their weekly allowance. It’s also not a sustainable method for generating income, especially compared with YouTube’s pre-roll ad system.
YouTube places an ad before top creators’ videos, tallies up the revenue the ad makes, and splits the profit with the creator. Live.ly users can only encourage their fans to send gifts. This week, I received a notification from one broadcaster saying they would follow the day’s top contributor.
A spokesperson for Live.ly told Business Insider that the company is currently looking into additional monetization opportunities such as sponsored videos, which are common on YouTube.
Doh credits the engaged user base for keeping him afloat. Thanks in part to users’ gifts, he was able to move to Los Angeles and start auditioning for roles in TV and movies.
According to the budding comedian, Live.ly beats other live-streaming platforms because he feels closest to his fans there. It’s almost never difficult to fill a 90-minute slot.
“It’s pretty crazy, but if you think about talking to your friends for an hour … I’m talking to 100,000 people at a time,” Doh said. “I definitely enjoy it.”