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Musical.ly Live-Streaming Stars Are Earning Thousands of Dollars From Adoring Fans

Twitter is shutting down Vine, and pioneering live-streaming app Meerkat is dead.

But that doesn’t mean short-form clips and live video are dead-end businesses. Two-year-old startup Musical.ly has turned a base of more than 100 million users for its lip-syncing app into what it says is a booming business for the most popular live-streaming creators on its Live.ly app who are generating real money from virtual gifts purchased by fans.

According to the company, the top 10 broadcasters on Live.ly — which debuted only this summer — have made $46,000 on average over a two-week period. The trick? Musical.ly says its built-in and highly engaged community of “musers” are flocking to the live broadcasts and opening their wallets to shower their favorite creators with love.

Bart Baker, a YouTube star known for his music parodies, said he’s done about a dozen Live.ly broadcasts to date that have generated about $30,000. Apple’s iTunes takes a 30% cut of revenue (as it does for all sales and in-app purchases), while Musical.ly keeps 20% of the remainder. Baker says Musical.ly, where he has 3.3 million followers, outstrips the audience and earning potential of other services like Twitter’s Periscope and Facebook Live.

“You can make a living on this,” Baker said. “The kids on this platform really they feel connected to you. When people see me drinking a Starbucks on Live.ly, they go to Starbucks and order the same drink.”

Baker said he started broadcasting on Live.ly because there was a large audience on Musical.ly already, so “it seemed the smartest platform to go live on,” he said. He’s seen upwards of 120,000 viewers for his Live.ly streams. “When I go live on Facebook, it’s like 700 people. I have never seen a live streaming platform where you can get 100,000 people watching at once.”

Lauren Godwin is another popular Musical.ly creator making money on Live.ly. The 16-year-old high-school junior, who lives in Houston, has more than 1.5 million followers on Musical.ly. She said she’s made around $16,000 through Live.ly over the past few months. Godwin broadcasts two or three times per week and has attracted more than 30,000 people to watch her comedy skits and chat about her life and other topics.

“I was very surprised when I started making money on Live.ly,” she said. “You’re just talking to fans — it’s like talking to your friends.”

Live.ly has rapidly become a top live-streaming app — amassing a bigger U.S. audience than Twitter’s Periscope, according to one estimate — amid a burgeoning batch of apps looking to tap into the trend. Last week, Live.me announced it has paid out $1 million to broadcasters on its platforms via user-purchased virtual gifts, and has rolled out a way for creators to sell products through the app.

Other new live-streaming entrants include Busker, founded last year by Lippe Oosterhof (ex-CEO of Livestation) and tech entrepreneur Tamim Mourad, which also offers live-streaming users to opportunity to sell products from their broadcasts and receive tips from fans; and Kastr, founded by tech and media entrepreneur Adrian Woolfe and backed by lead investor ProSiebenSat.1 Group. The new activity in the space comes even as Meerkat officially shut down last month.

Baker and his partner, Shira Lazar, vlogger and host of “What’s Trending,” have been broadcasting a show on Live.ly on Sundays at 1 p.m. from their living room, and have seen more than 1 million views for some of their segments.

What Live.ly users are actually buying are emoji, which pop up on-screen during a live-stream. Those range from 5 cents for a panda head — to $50 for some kind of blue creature in a pink dress with a halo. The bigger the gift, the bigger the gifter’s name appears on the screen, and that encourages Live.ly broadcasters to give a shout-out to contributors.

“Think about your favorite celebrity saying your name over and over, that’s the main thing that really drives it – they’re not just donating and it’s invisible,” Baker said. Creators also can set up a leaderboard showing which fans are the biggest contributors.

Lazar said she’s looking to build up a regular schedule of first-person live programming on Live.ly for “What’s Trending”: “For live, there is no other platform doing monetization like this,” she said.

Musical.ly has grabbed the attention of the music biz, and stars like Ariana Grande, Selena Gomez and Gwen Stefani have joined the service. Musical.ly also has spawned its own homegrown stars like Baby Ariel and Jacob Sartorius.

All that said, it’s possible the excitement over Musical.ly and Live.ly will wear off or that the platform will fail to grow beyond its core base of teen and young-adult females. For Baker, the fact that the platform overindexes on teen girls is ideal. “That’s the audience I want. They’re going to buy my music and watch 200 YouTube videos,” he said.

Added Baker, “It’s the most loyal audience. When you’re a teenager, you’re always on your phone.”

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