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China's Edtech Giant Finds New Life in English Language Live-Streaming

By Shelly Xu

Last updated: Feb 15, 2023

Meet New Oriental, an edtech giant famous for its English language training and study abroad services, that has found success by livestreaming on the online Chinese video live broadcast platform Douyin.

A provider of private educational services in China, New Oriental Education & Technology Group, has been silent for a while as the Chinese government started to crack down on the off-campus school market last June.

New Oriental is famous for its English language training and study abroad services. According to the company’s founder Yu Minhong, the company lost 80% of its revenue and laid off 60,000 employees due to last year’s sweeping "double reduction" policy, in which China’s education authorities seek to “ease homework and after-school tutoring nationwide.” The country banned for-profit tutoring in core school subjects (Chinese literature, mathematics, English) last summer, and then began rolling out government-funded education programs instead.

However, a new livestream trend is bringing the company back to the spotlight. On the online video live broadcast platform Douyin (the Chinese version of TikTok also owned by ByteDance), New Oriental sets up an account called "Oriental Selection" to bring goods to various merchants in the form of the live broadcast. The livestream hosts are usually former English teachers.

In early June, Yuhui Dong, a famous New Oriental English teacher from Shaanxi who has taught 500,000 students (both in-person and online) over the eight years since he joined the company, went viral for teaching English while selling goods on the company’s "Oriental Selection" channel.

During the live broadcast, the host introduces a "knowledge point" every 30 minutes, emphasizing some selling points of the product, and then teaches viewers how to express them in English. For example, during a live broadcast of selling beef steaks, Dong wrote down on his handheld whiteboard "12 steaks, 24 bags of seasoning," explaining words and phrases in both Chinese and English. When selling fruit, Dong also explained the meaning of "you're the apple of my eye" to the viewers.

Other related English expressions are also taught. The whole process is like a class that catches the audience's attention.

According to a report from Radio Free Asia (RFA), the number of fans in Dong’s live broadcast rose by 5 million and exceeded 10 million within a week.

Daily sales from New Oriental's live-streaming platform, which had been stuck at less than 1 million yuan ($148,858), also leaped past 15 million yuan ($2,238,471), according to data from live-streaming tracking platform Huitun.

On June 28th, Yu Minhong posted an article on her personal WeChat public account "Lao Yu Gossip," and talked about Oriental Selection live stream.

“Oriental Selection focuses on selling agricultural products. It is definitely not for fame, nor for being lively, but to build an excellent agricultural and living industry chain,” Yu said in her article.

Besides farm products, the channel’s other focus is to sell books, ranging from Chinese history to foreign literature. An RFA report shows the stock price of New Oriental Online has risen by more than 70%, nearly 7 times since June.

Jessie Xin, who is on New Oriental’s marketing team, told The Org that the brands and companies that want to collaborate with New Oriental have already been lined up for September or October this year.

“Companies see this new type of live stream as an opportunity to not only introduce their products but also to educate the public about the history and concepts behind their brands,” Xi said.

Following the trend, many online education companies have also started offering bilingual live streaming.

Xiaohongshu, also known as “Little Red Book,” is one of China’s most popular social media and e-commerce platforms. Users on the platform are now encouraged to try out the “bilingual live streaming” feature to browse products with a host that live streams in different languages.

“It is such a new concept and I love to learn something while I buy products,” said Xiaohongshu user Ben Xu. “Sometimes even if I don’t need to buy anything, I would still watch these live streams because they are so much more interesting than the traditional ones.”

Waning Bo, a researcher at the Education Research Institute, told The Org that in the past year, subject-based educational institutions have accelerated its transformation. "I think the most difficult time for the education and training industry has passed,” Bo said. “The New Oriental model will bring new opportunities to the education industry.”

However, Bo said that he holds a "wait-and-see" attitude toward the company’s future of live streaming. “At the end of the day, most livestream shoppers still want to buy cheaper products with better deals,” Bo said. “It’s only a matter of time that companies like New Oriental have to explore new methods to attract viewers and survive in this industry.”

Yu wrote in her WeChat public account that If this method continues to work in the future, New Oriental will label the products in the live broadcast room as the self-operated brand of "Oriental Selection" to promote high-quality agricultural products.

Yu adds that there will be five to 10 self-operated products on the shelves every month. And if possible, the channel’s live broadcast will not be limited to indoors, and every farmland can become a live broadcast room. The anchors will be local farmers who are familiar with the area and products, and will be introducing the local scenery, geography and agricultural background to more people.

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