Once only followed by anime fans, virtual idols have become a big business in China, which is expected to be worth over RMB 1.5 billion (USD 210 million) by 2023.
In 2019, over 490 million Chinese people have consumed ACGN content, which refers to anime, comics, games, and light novels, at least once, while about 100 million netizens consume this kind of content regularly, according to consulting firm iResearch. The primary audiences are Gen Z (people born from 1995 to 2010). Clearly, it’s younger consumers who have propelled virtual idols into the mainstream.
Virtual star Luo Tianyi, a hologram created in 2012 by Shanghai-based company Henian, has so far amassed 4.6 million followers on social microblogging platform Weibo. “She” can sing, dance, and even interact with fans on social media.
A lot has gone into creating Luo. Her appearance is based on fan paintings and realized using 3D modeling and motion capture techniques, while her voice comes from the real voices of human singers, synthesized through Vocaloid software.
Like human celebrities, virtual idols can earn revenue by appearing in ads, livestreaming events, and concerts, and like other pop stars, by selling merchandise.
Luo’s Taobao Live debut is a clear example. The hologram star attracted over 2.7 million viewers within the first hour. However, Luo isn’t the only virtual idol to partake in e-commerce livestreaming. Other virtual streamers, like Woshibubaichi, have even reached RMB 8.6 million in sales in a single night.
Major livestreaming platforms like Douyin, Kuaishou, Douyu, and Bilibili have all launched specific categories for virtual idols. With the backing of giant corporations, the future of virtual idols lies in expanding its appeal to a wider consumer base. On Bilibili, there are over 6000 virtual streamers who attracted 60 million viewers in Q1 of 2019. Tencent has also joined the trend by creating its own virtual boy band featuring characters from its hit game Honor of Kings.
To know more about this growing business, check out the fourth episode of Going Live, a series that looks at Asia’s growing livestreaming industry.
Episode one: Are e-commerce and livestreaming a perfect match?
Episode three: Is Likee becoming the next TikTok?
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