Live-streaming and the explosion of the “creator economy” are igniting a rise in social media app use and rapidly changing the online landscape, a study has found. In 2021 alone, consumers have already made more than 9.2 billion app downloads and are expected to spend 740 billion hours on them. That includes an estimated 548 billion hours of them live-streaming – in apps including TikTok , Twitch and Instagram – according to mobile data and analytics tracker App Annie in its “The Evolution of Social Media Report” released on September 6. The report also found that hourly usage of apps in 2021 is likely to surpass last year’s total of nearly 800 billion hours because of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic , say App Annie executives. App Annie cites the surge in usage of Twitch, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary. Twitch initially rose to popularity with gamers and has more than 30 million people who visit the site daily; more consumers are turning to Twitch to make connections outside game streams from music to comedy, App Annie found. “Authentic, real-time connection is driving meaningful growth and is set to underpin the future landscape of social media apps,” App Annie said. Marcus “djWheat” Graham, Twitch’s head of community productions who’s been with the platform since its start in 2011, said in June that Twitch had empowered millions of creators “who now truly have a ‘job that they love’ that allows them to share their passions with their communities”. Disgraced live-streaming ‘sales king’ pulls in US$300 million in 12 hours Many of those passionate Twitch streamers last week took part in a boycott, #ADayOffTwitch, to protest against a spate of “hate raids”, on the platform. In response, Twitch said “it’s working hard on improved channel-level ban evasion detection and additional account improvements” to help make the site safer. App Annie’s report also reflects the fact some creators are being encouraged to get paid to produce original content on apps. Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg recently said the social network is planning to pay up to US$1 billion to those who create content on its platforms between now and 2022. The company also said it won’t take a cut on creators’ revenue until 2023. Social media rival Twitter has also proclaimed that it wants to help its content creators make money. Twitter recently added two new features, including Super Follows, which allows users to charge a monthly subscription fee for extra content. The other feature, Tip Jar, allows users to send money directly to their favourite Twitter accounts. Lexi Sydow, App Annie’s head of insights, says the changes are part of an emerging trend. Some of our favourite apps are shifting from primarily texting, chatting and photo sharing to also focusing on gaming, sharing videos and continuous streaming to appeal to consumers, Sydow says. China now has over 900 million internet users thanks to the pandemic Consumers are expected to spend an estimated US$6.78 billion via social apps worldwide this year, according to the App Annie report. American and Japanese consumers spent more than US$1.5 billion on app usage during the first six months of 2021. “It’s a momentous shift and is quickly becoming a really important part of the narrative in social growth,” Sydow says of the consumer social apps spending. She says App Annie projects the apps spending could climb up to US$17.2 billion annually by 2025, a 29 per cent increase. App Annie’s report comes as tech giant Apple says it’s letting app developers email their users about ways to sidestep the iPhone maker when signing up for subscriptions. Previously such moves could have led to apps being removed from Apple’s popular app store, which is a perennial cash cow for the iPhone maker. The App Annie report says TikTok is the most downloaded social and entertainment app in the world for a second straight year. Instagram, which just asked its 1 billion users worldwide to verify their birth dates, has supplanted its parent company, Facebook, as the second-most downloaded app globally, the report says. The rest of the top 10 most downloaded apps include 2020 repeats WhatsApp , Telegram, Snapchat, Facebook’s Messenger and new entrants CapCut, MX TakaTak and PicsArt Photo & Video Editor. The latter three show a shift towards downloading apps that favour videos and creating content, and replace the popular apps Netflix , Likee and Pinterest. The theme of users preferring to download and use short-form video content and live-streaming apps is prevalent, according to the report. As a result, many consumers are opting to pay for sometimes raw and unedited work by creators instead of professionally produced content. “Consumers are opening their wallets to the creator economy at a level we’ve never seen before,” the report says. Tencent’s WeChat reinforces short video-sharing, live-streaming functions One app that App Annie says encourages consumer spending is Singapore-based Bigo Live that uses “beans” as a form of “gifting” (giving funds) to content creators during live-streams. Other apps with similar practices include Twitch, where users can send “bits”, and TikTok, which uses “virtual coins” to compensate creators. With about 400 million users in more than 150 countries, Bigo Live represents what vice-president Mike Ong unapologetically describes in the App Annie report as live-streaming becoming “the new social language”. “We are committed to helping our broadcasters become the celebrities of tomorrow,” Ong says. Sam Yang, App Annie’s senior vice-president, says it’s hard to keep up with apps as they constantly change because of the landscape and the increased competition to get consumers. “What we’re seeing today is likely to not be what we see in a year from now,” Yang says.