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VTuber: Virtual Idol 2.0

  Meita Holdings, known for operating the idol girl group SNH48, is now planning to launch a virtual idol group. Different from the cultivation of real people in the past, this time they want to recruit more “people in the middle” for virtual idols.
  Compared with “Meita Holdings”, people may be more familiar with “Siba Culture Media Group”. It is deeply tied to SNH48 and is famous for operating “48 Series” idol artists. It has since become a comprehensive artist brokerage company and changed its name to Meita Holdings Finally, I began to study the “Metaverse” that can integrate both real idols and virtual idols. This time, they will be a 12-member virtual idol group VIG48.
  And “people in the middle” is an indispensable element when many companies operate virtual idols at the stage where artificial intelligence (AI) has not been fully introduced. Ten years ago, the first generation of virtual idols Hatsune Miku or Luo Tianyi could sing songs through software and stand on the stage with a projected image, but now, operating companies hope that virtual idols can not only sing and dance, but also become a “performers with more diverse performances”. “The artist. So “people in the middle” appeared: they provide motion capture for avatars behind the scenes, they either have singing and dancing skills, or they can dub, or they have the ability to control the field of variety shows, and they can even partner together to tell jokes. They don’t need to show their faces, and because they are replaceable hidden people, the risks are more controllable.
  People have given a name to this new generation of “virtual artist” composed of avatars and one or more people – VTuber.
entertainers

  The recognized VTuber “originator” is “Kizuna AI” (Kizuna AI), who opened a channel on YouTuber at the end of 2016. This virtual character is a two-dimensional girl with chestnut hair, pink headband, and sailor suit. She can chat and sing Can jump, initially attracted fans by posting video content, and later interacted with fans during live broadcasts. As of March 15, 2023, Kizuna’s official channel has 3 million subscribers.
  The promoter of Kizuna Ai is a Japanese CG video production company called Activ8, which is also the start-up company of CG special effects designer Takeshi Osaka. In an interview with Japanese entertainment media entamejin in 2021, Takeshi Osaka said that the idea of ​​Kizuna Ai actually originated from his business bottleneck before starting a business.
  In 2014, many advertisers in Japan began to put advertising CMs on YouTube. The video production company where Takeshi Osaka worked judged, “The next is the era of YouTube!” So he took the task and tried to operate a YouTube account, but found that in For this global video platform, they came a bit early. The idea of ​​Japanese companies to make content is not very popular, and it is difficult to make the data look good. He then remembered that when working in a foreign-funded company, everyone respected Japanese two-dimensional culture, but there was little relevant content on YouTube.
  Takeshi Osaka seized a market gap: the lack of Japanese players on the YouTube platform, and there is no popular content. At that time, YouTube had already appeared a group of full-time bloggers who called themselves YouTubers. Takeshi Osaka and his team designed a girl with a two-dimensional image, and took the lead in proposing the concept of “Virtual YouTuber” (Virtual YouTuber, VTuber for short)—and thus Kizuna Ai was born.

  Kizuna usually calls herself “artificial intelligence”, but everyone knows that technology has not evolved to that point. Takeshi Osaka was born in CG special effects, and the performance of the avatar needs to be done by the motion capture actor, that is, the person in the middle. Even so, the video creativity and Kizuna Ai’s silly and cute performance quickly captured the hearts of the audience. , the audience affectionately called Kizuna Ai “Ai-chan”. According to Takeshi Osaka, in December 2017, Kizuna’s YouTube channel had more than 1 million subscribers, 95% of whom were from overseas.
  2018 was a turning point in the VTuber world—Takeshi Osaka recalled that because of the surge in subscribers, Kizuna gained stable commercial advertising revenue and exposure opportunities, and the Japanese gradually paid attention to Kizuna. Tianjiao Riku, who was studying at Waseda University at the time, was one of them.
  Tian Jiaolu once worked as a marketing intern in a software development company, and later started a business during his studies and became an App developer. In June 2017, Apple announced the “Animoji” function at the World Developers Conference – the mobile phone will recognize the user’s expression and reflect it on the emoji expression. If you move your mouth towards the screen, the emoji on the screen will follow suit. Animoji was carried on the iPhone X and was released globally in October of the same year.
  Inspired by this, Tianjiaolu developed the facial recognition mobile app “Nijisanji”. Users can create a two-dimensional virtual image, pose various expressions, and animate the image on the screen. Taking advantage of the craze of VTuber, Tian Jiaolu decided to find an application scenario for the app, and soon made a project “Nijisanji” with his friends. In February 2018, this project, which was later called “Rainbow Society” by Chinese fans, officially took shape. The first phase of 8 members was launched, and the personal preferences are set to be good at singing, playing games, chatting, etc. From then on, every once in a while, Rainbow Society will launch a batch of VTubers, allowing them to broadcast live on the YouTube platform and interact with the audience.

  ANYCOLOR founded by Tian Jiaorui is an entertainment company and the operator of Rainbow Club. In the same year as ANYCOLOR, Japanese software development company COVER also took a fancy to this somewhat peculiar virtual business.
  The stories of the two companies are very similar. COVER originally developed a virtual reality (VR) app for playing table tennis. In 2018, it made VTuber with Apple’s facial recognition as the underlying technology, and launched a VTuber called “Hololive” in June of the same year. Jump combo.
  Both companies focus on VTuber live broadcasting. Compared with Kizuna’s boutique video route, COVER and ANYCOLOR use facial recognition technology to do live broadcasting. Soon to occupy the market. According to the 2022 VTuber YouTube Global Live Tips Ranking released by the data company Playboard, among the top 20, 9 are from Rainbow Club and 10 are from Hololive.

  In June 2022, ANYCOLOR will officially land on the Growth Market of the Tokyo Stock Exchange (GrowthMarket), a sector designed for high-growth startups. It is also the first listed VTuber brokerage company in Japan. As of March 2023, Rainbow Club has more than 150 active VTubers, ranking first in the industry in the world. According to the second quarter financial report in December 2022, ANYCOLOR’s sales reached 11.97 billion yen (about 600 million yuan).
  More importantly, just like the reality idol industry, ANYCOLOR has successfully acquired fans who follow its VTuber like stars. On March 15, 2023, the company applied to the Tokyo Stock Exchange to change to the Prime Market segment composed of large global companies, on the grounds that the company’s after-tax profit in fiscal year 2022 is expected to reach 6.3 billion yen (approx. 320 million yuan), a year-on-year increase of 2.3 times. In the first three quarters of fiscal 2022, sales increased by 91%-the growth was driven by fans’ enthusiasm for purchasing VTuber IP derivatives and the increase in corporate cooperative advertisements.
  Fans are indeed the key people that companies like ANYCOLOR want to capture. It has 4 business models: live broadcast, commercial derivatives, performing arts activities and brand promotion-three businesses are closely related to fans.
  In the concept of ANYCOLOR, each VTuber will generally be divided into different groups for operation, and sometimes they will be bound together to produce music works, and the VTubers will also be linked. As the scope of their activities expands, the market will continue to expand, from live broadcasts, events, to music and videos, and finally form a “cultural entertainment universe” market with their own set worldview.
  In China, Meita Holdings also launched the first technical test for its own “Meita Universe” on March 14, 2023. Its artists and idols will settle in batches, and idol artists will have real people, virtual clones, independent There are 4 images of virtual people and virtual idols.
  No matter which market it is in, each operating company has a lot of ambitions. In order to achieve this goal, companies need to give each VTuber a setting in line with the long-term plan. Fang Qi, a Chinese VTuber practitioner, gave an example that when a virtual human derived from a game IP is looking for a person in the middle, he will pay more attention to the matching degree of the image, the tone of the IP, and the person in the middle. For example, when looking for a “middle man” for a dance game, the operator will pay more attention to dancing ability. But how to present full-bodied characters and how to interact with fans needs to be slowly explored by the operator and the people in the middle.
ANYCOLOR’s VTuber business revenue segment

Source: ANYCOLOR “FY2023/2024 Second Quarter Financial Report Explanatory Materials”, December 15, 2022

  Liu Yaying, a Chinese student living in Tokyo, first learned about Rainbow Club through friends in 2020. She said that every VTuber who has been active all year round has some “stalks” that only fans can understand, and during the live broadcast, fans will also participate in completing and disseminating the story.
  Take Ge Ye, the game anchor she likes, as an example. He is the first VTuber in Rainbow Club with more than 1 million YouTube subscribers, and also the first male VTuber in history with one million subscribers. Although he is very good at playing games, he will become “social terror” when facing some female VTubers, and can only ask questions according to a fixed template. Very tall stem.
  This sense of belonging to the fan group fascinates Liu Yaying. “Many things can only be understood if you continue to pay attention to that VTuber, such as why this is funny, why people repeat a certain word in the comment area, and how this VTuber will react to a certain sentence,” she explained, “Every VTuber’s live broadcast room , Fans have different personalities, for example, Jianchi (Toya) and fans may become friends with each other.” Jianchidao is also another VTuber who is very good at joking under the Rainbow Club.
the person behind

  In this new model of the old game, in addition to the content planning and operation capabilities of the operating company for virtual artists, Zhongzhiren has also become an important role in giving VTuber the “soul”. Zhang Bin, vice president of the Meita Metaverse Marketing Operations Center, believes that virtual idols are performers. At least until the development of artificial intelligence technology matures, virtual idols still need to be driven by people in the middle.
  ”At present, it seems that fans will still pour their love more on real people. The characters, voices, and talents of Zhongzhi people will bring the audience the feeling of ‘flesh and blood’.” Zhang Bin believes that the virtual idol IP It is more flexible than a real person image, and has more advantages in the development, authorization and sales of derivative products.

  He also admitted that because Zhongzhi’s emotional intelligence in dealing with others cannot be trained, this may lead to huge differences in popularity among different virtual idols. The four aspects of “personality matching”, voice, game and chat ability, and other hobbies are the basic indicators of the candidates they are examining. “If the interviewee has the ability to ‘change voice’ and ‘singer’, it will definitely be a plus.” He said.
  But being in the middle is not without risk. As an emerging industry, it still has a lot of room for improvement. In China, the record and brokerage company Lehua Entertainment teamed up with ByteDance to jointly launch the virtual idol group A-SOUL. In May 2022, its member “Jia Le” suspended activities, and the actor complained about labor treatment issues in private accounts and live broadcasts, such as too long working hours and intensive training, and she was prohibited from engaging in front-line performing arts activities in the future through a contract. Afterwards, the person in charge of the planning publicly issued a letter admitting that he did not pay enough attention to the physical and mental health of the “people in the middle”.

  Fang Qi, a practitioner in the VTuber industry, also told the future vision map that many VTubers are now like a window for companies to display technology to the outside world, so the task is very heavy. Sometimes, VTuber may also cause public opinion turmoil because of the “character” of Zhongzhiren. In 2022, VTuber Zhang Jinghua rushed to Weibo hot searches because of emotional disputes, and has since ceased activities.

  VTuber started at about the same time in China and Japan. After 2018, more companies began to set foot in the VTuber field, and there was a large-scale recruitment of “people in the middle”. The entrants who support China’s VTuber can be vaguely divided into two categories: Internet companies and idol artist brokerage companies, one supplying technology and the other supplying talents.
  For artist brokers and game companies that reserve performing arts talents all the year round, VTuber may be a good opportunity for transformation. The more well-known example is still the virtual idol group A-SOUL, ByteDance provides technical support, and Lehua Entertainment provides talent training and management and operation experience. The Chinese game company Le Element also launched a game called “Fight!” in 2018. Diva’s virtual idol project allows fans to “support” idols in real time through small programs, live broadcasts, etc. The logic is consistent with the current VTuber.

  There are also voices who are not optimistic about the possibility of VTuber’s profitability. Yuan Dongyun works for an Internet company in Shanghai and once worked as a product manager on a live broadcast platform. From the perspective of the platform, he doesn’t think VTuber is an “attractive cake”. He prefers to see it as “a niche, high-threshold, high-loyalty content category” that requires years of cultural accumulation to “ Understand the stalk”. Take the two-dimensional community like Bilibili as an example. Although VTuber accounts for a high proportion, the overall income is not high.
  VTuber is still in the middle ground between artificial intelligence virtual idols and the first generation of virtual idols. Yuan Dongyun mentioned Liu Yexi, a virtual beauty makeup character, who once attracted the attention of people in the industry on Halloween in 2021. It was a high-definition digital human using motion capture technology. In Yuan Dongyun’s view, this character broke away from the two-dimensional cultural attributes and “can directly compete with real-life anchors.” The other direction is the AI-driven digital human. In the future, this kind of digital human will not need a middleman. The game company MiHoYo is making the virtual character Luming, using the development technology of the game engine, and the sound is extracted from the database. Smart compositing, but currently it still uses motion capture.

  As front-line practitioners who are closer to the VTuber project, Yuan Dongyun and Fang Qi both expressed concerns about technology and big company players. Many people just piece together the Metaverse and the Generative AI market. “80% of the entrants may not have thought about what they want to do.” Fang Qi said that they are just optimistic about this “track” or “ market”, or have to do it because of the company’s strategy.
  But in any case, the money-absorbing ability of the pioneers is still attracting businessmen. Following ANYCOLOR, on March 27, 2023, COVER Corporation was also listed on the Growth Market of the Tokyo Stock Exchange.

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