April 21, 2024

What we learned looking inside TikTok’s live-streaming money machine

When an Australian streamer told us she was making her living from fan donations on TikTok Live, it seemed like a sign of something new happening on social media.

It sparked an investigation that led ABC News Story Lab to an Australian who spent more than $300,000 in a single month on the app — all just given to strangers on the internet.

The team behind the investigation, reporter Julian Fell, designer Teresa Tan, developer Ashley Kyd, and editor Matt Liddy will be here to answer your questions at 12:30pm AEDT today.

We’ll be joined by researchers Patrik Wikstrom, Crystal Abidin and Vasileios Stavropoulos.

Tell us what you thought of the story or ask the team your burning questions.

That’s it for today

We also developed a way to track millions of dollars worth of gifts given on TikTok Live and visited a streamer at home while she was working.

Whenever a story like this is published, there’s plenty that doesn’t make the cut — not least, the behind-the-scenes of reporting and producing the finished product.

So, here are five key moments from the investigation, starting with its origins at a party thrown by TikTok itself.

The tip-off at a TikTok party

A hand-picked group of upcoming creators were milling about in the upstairs area of Brisbane’s Wickham hotel, looking around for faces they recognised.

The place was full of micro-celebrities, influencers and aspiring creators.

And it was time for the night’s headline act – TikTok’s reigning creator of the year Kat Clark and her teenage daughter Tisha were ready to step onstage to share the secrets behind their success.

But the boisterous crowd wouldn’t quieten down. There were too many distractions — cocktails and shots were flowing freely at the open bar, and a neon-lit wall adorned with TikTok logos was in near-constant use.

A small crowd of young people filming something off-screen on their phones

Creators glued to their phones at the party.(ABC News: David Douglas Stuart)

“Hello everyone on the live stream,” joked the MC, trying to snatch the creators’ attention away from their phones.

It was the first of many references to the live-streaming feature on TikTok throughout the night.

As we milled about afterwards, enjoying the finger food, a bloke in his 30s told us he’d recently quit his labouring job to give full-time streaming a crack. He figured it would let him spend more time with his kids.

Then Holly MacAlpine – who would ultimately feature in the story – mentioned that she had a single fan who was sending her roughly $1,000 a week in virtual “gifts”.

And, with that, the seed had been planted. We had a hunch that something very interesting was happening on TikTok Live.

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