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MCN stands for multi-channel network, these are companies, often based in the likes of China and Japan who actively develop popular influencer channels. They work with influencers to help them improve the quality of their content and then build their audience. In return the MCN gets a cut of the revenue from the influencers channel. In some respects it is similar to the traditional model of record labels, in particular their A&R and ‘plugging’ functions.
Classic examples of MCN augmented influencer channels
Li Ziqi (李子柒)
Sichuan native Li had worked in a number of jobs including being a singer and DJ, prior to returning home to the countryside to care for a sick family member. She initially developed video content to help support the family business selling agricultural produce on TaoBao. Eventually she partnered with MCN Hangzhou Weinian Brand Management to shoot and distribute content. This partnership included building a 17.7 million strong subscriber base at the time of writing on YouTube.
Li has stopped producing content in 2021 due to a dispute with Hangzhou Weinian, the full details of which haven’t been disclosed.
Daub is an American living in Japan. He started his career in Japan as an English teacher, settled down and married a local woman with whom he has a child. Eventually John Daub got experience in front of the camera as a reporter for NHK World. NHK World is the Japanese equivalent of the BBC World Service.
Eventually Daub took his NHK World experience online and create his own content alongside his occasional NHK World presenter work. Only In Japan filmed content around the country focusing on food, technology culture and places to visit. Daub partnered with the WAO Corporation in an MCN style relationship to built a channel called WAO RYU!Only in Japan.
Daub and WAO parted company in 2020. At the time the YouTube channel had 1.35 million subscribers. WAO has continued the add content to the channel but only managed to grow it to 1.44 million subscribers at the time of writing.
Daub set up a new channel and an audience of 277,000 subscribers. WAO and Daub’s separation seems to be more amicable than Li & Hangzhou Weinian Brand Management. But if they had remained combined, they would have likely become more successful.
MCN eco-system in China
The MCN eco-system in China has grown in leaps and bounds. This could be everything from houses of live streamers, that are basically e-commerce sweatshops through to TV programme level productions like Li’s channel content. Live streaming services featuring virtual gifting and e-commerce integration was responsible for that step change between 2018 and 2019. This happened despite Chinese government efforts to ‘purify’ internet content.
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