The Latest Way to Cash In on TikTok? Going Live 24/7

JettyJamez and AutumnRaynn have been live on TikTok for more than three weeks. In that time, spanning more than 500 hours, nothing much of note seems to have happened in the young couple’s apartment, but the number of people watching has skyrocketed.

To keep up, they bought new iPads and iPhones and now have as many as nine cameras tracking them around their home at once: several in the bedroom, including one secured with packing tape to the ceiling that stares down menacingly from above the bed; a few in the living room; and even one above the toilet. If they leave the house, they take the audience with them. They transmit all of the camera angles in a grid-like view on the stream, and at any given time thousands of people may be watching and commenting on the couple’s actions. More than 2 million people now follow their account.

For some, having every move, word, and body part critiqued by the internet is a special kind of horror house. (“Blink twice if u need help,” one commenter wrote.) But there’s cold hard cash motivating such streamers, as well as a chance to achieve stardom without any special skills—an uncanny version of Big Brother or The Truman Show without producers. “You guys may say we’re overdoing it, but we’re just showing you the reality,” Autumn says in a video. “Every angle, every aspect.” The couple did not respond to emails seeking an interview for this story.

24/7 livestreaming isn’t new; researcher Franziska Zimmer observed the trend on several social streaming platforms in 2017 (one Twitch streamer has been rolling live since November 2021). TikTok’s algorithm and its live feature, though, are pushing more niche streamers in front of more eyeballs, guiding the trend to a tipping point. Livestreaming around the clock has been popular in Asia for quite some time, Zimmer says, but now it’s taking off in the US. It’s a way for people to leverage every aspect of their lives for financial gain and fame. The tradeoff? Any sense of privacy, plus the psychological toll it can take.

JettyJamez and AutumnRaynn’s seemingly endless livestream is just one of many types of bizarre content on TikTok live, where everyone has a gimmick. Some are mimicking NPCs, others vow to acknowledge viewers as they join to watch a stunt, like eating a raw egg. Hamsters run on wheels to club music, people blow up balloons as gifts roll in, and some just sleep, or don’t get any sleep, for cash. It’s an endless parade of the entertaining, mundane, and strange, one that allows the viewer to become part of the show for a fleeting moment by leaving a comment or a gift, like they’re checking in or dropping a command to a Sim character.

With 24/7 livestreaming, it’s the unknowns that can make the trend interesting, says Katrin Scheibe, a researcher at Heinrich Heine University Düsseldorf in Germany. Anything can happen, or nothing at all. Scheibe says she’s seen streamers sleeping and working, but she has also seen people have unexpected interactions with police. The appeal may come in the novelty more than the content itself, but some people might also watch the streams to satisfy a need to belong, Scheibe says.

For the streamers, being live 24/7 means they are always working. TikTokers who livestream do so to increase the likelihood that someone will see them, boosting their opportunities to get paid. Krishna Subramanian, cofounder and CEO of Captiv8, a global influencer marketing platform, says the amount of attention on 24/7 livestreaming is growing. “It’s a different type of emotional connection that followers are probably having with these folks that are going live,” he says. “It becomes addictive to people to see what is going on and what they are doing, and checking into that on a constant basis.” Subramanian says these creators can make anywhere from $5,000 to $50,000 a week.

TikTokers don’t make money directly from their viewers on the app; the live gifting feature is set up so that viewers can buy coins from TikTok and use them to buy gifts that they send to creators. TikTok then awards “diamonds” to creators with high levels of engagement, and these can be exchanged for actual payouts. TikTok did not respond to questions about the amount of money users have spent or TikTok has paid out, but for viewers, coins are cheap: about $1 for 65. Some viewers spend far more to send bigger gifts, but the low entry point makes it easy for anyone to send a cartoon rose that quickly vanishes.

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