VTubers: the virtual YouTubers with millions of fans that generate a multi-million dollar business in Japan

VTubers: the virtual YouTubers with millions of fans that generate a multi-million dollar business in Japan

A young Japanese woman with a giant pink bow and white gloves looks at the camera and happily greets her YouTube audience. He is about to try to solve a puzzle. Before diving into the game, he brags about his skills with a smile. "Well, compared to all humans, I can solve it much faster, there's no doubt about that!" he says. And yes, this YouTube personality is not a real person. His voice is that of a human, but it is an anime-style digital caricature. Its name is Kizuna Ai and its channel has more than two million subscribers. It is the "virtual YouTuber" most viewed throughout the site. Kazuma AI has millions of followers. Kizuna Ai is part of an emerging trend in which 3D avatars and non-humans, they are becoming celebrities on YouTube, with thousands of loyal fans and juicy advertising contracts. It's becoming so popular that a company is investing tens of millions in "virtual talent" and talent agencies are being created to manage these avatars. It is a movement that has great implications for the future: it could change the way that brands market their products and the way in which we interact with technology. It could even help us to live forever. As if they were human. Usually, vloggers are people who speak directly to the camera with their fans, sharing things like beauty tips, product reviews and pop culture critiques. But in the latter year they have had to deal with "VTubers" like Kizuna Ai. The vloggers face virtual competition. "We saw that this started to take off at the end of 2017 … And it continues to grow," says Kevin Allocca, YouTube's culture and trends chief For Allocca, the Kizuna Ai channel is an example of the increase in popularity of the VTubers: it had about 200,000 subscribers last December, and more than two million just 10 months later. While Google's Earnest Pettie says the The number of daily views of this year's VTubers videos quadruples last year's figure. There is no easy way to measure exactly how many VTubers there are, but User Local, a web analysis site based in Tokyo has at least 2,000. These include Nekomiya Hinata, a peach-haired character who plays combat video games and pours subtleties into Japanese while shooting at her enemies. Another, Ami Yamato, is a British virtual vlogger based in London that has a penchant for Starbucks and walks through the "real" world, sometimes with live humans. He has been vlogged since 2011.Ami Yamato vlogged from London. The trend, however, is still not global: Allocca says that VTubers are popular mainly in Japan. But in that country, futuristic videos have attracted the attention of companies willing to Help these characters find popularity beyond YouTube. A new industry? Gree, one of Japan's largest mobile application developers, plans to invest 10 billion yen (US $ 88 million) over the next two years to develop virtual talent, create more live broadcasting opportunities, create film and animation studios and provide resources to creators. "We believe that human beings need avatars beyond nicknames and profile images," says the spokesperson of the company, Kensuke Sugiyama. "Although virtual talent is currently just an entertainment area, we believe that attractive 3D avatars, and their activities in worlds Virtual users, will take people to the next stage of the Internet, "he adds. Virtual YouTubers often interact with real YouTubers. Sugiyama believes that as virtual and augmented reality technologies continue to develop, more vloggers and Internet users could transform. in fantastic and colorful characters, which in turn could become brands. And Gree is not the only company interested in this possible market. Kao, a Japanese cosmetics and chemicals company, "hired" VTuber Tsukino Mito to appear in the smart screen of a washing machine during a live event in Tokyo and help you sell laundry detergent. The Ibaraki prefecture government created a virtual "influencer" last month to appear in tourism campaigns, while Kizuna Ai was selected by the national tourism board to appear on videos to attract foreign visitors to Japan. Kazuma AI also He wants to attract tourists to Japan. This demand is driving associated industries, such as a talent agency launched in April in Japan that is exclusively aimed at virtual avatars. The new company will help clients to organize events and video collaborations with other creators, and more. But how do we get here? A star is born One of the first to adopt this trend was a character who is almost 60 years old. Barbie, the doll that has appeared in the lines of toys and television shows for decades, made her virtual vlogging debut in 2015, before the emergence of the Japanese VTubers. Barbie was the first VTuber. "Hi, uh, it's okay, let's see, where should I start?", you can see her saying to Barbie as she lays on her seat, after turning on a webcam. "My name is Barbie Roberts, I have three sisters and we live in Los Angeles, well, Malibu, but I'm originally from Wisconsin. We moved here when I was eight … "She sounds and looks like many other teen vloggers on YouTube She talks about everything from personal style to more complex issues, such as why girls say" I'm so sorry "so much. the Mattel company, owner of the Barbie brand, noticed the increase in the popularity of vlogging and saw there an opportunity to reach the girls who want to buy products linked to the doll. "Barbie only publishes two vlogs per month and each new episode takes about four weeks, "says Lisa McKnight, senior vice president and global general manager of Barbie." A team develops each script based on topics that are relevant to a girl and authentic to the character of Barbie; Some vlogs address relevant and cultural conversations, and other vlogs are linked to a YouTube trend, "he explains. Hand in hand with technology. Whether it's Barbie or Kizuna Ai, behind many VTubers there is a very similar technology that allows Transforming a human artist into digital influencer. Usually, this is how it works: first, an actor stands in a studio with movement trackers in his head, elbows and hands, and his movements are recorded by a software that recreates the actions of all the body thanks to these trackers. The "virtual" Barbie. These actions are then mapped on the shape and proportions of an animated character, which can be projected on a background or in a live broadcast. Meanwhile, an actor Professional voice or human vlogger gives his voice to the character. The teams behind many VTubers, however, do not like to reveal much more about how characters like Kizuna Ai come to life. The team itself refers to their creations as if the characters were real people. "All we can say is that destiny made us meet two years ago," says Masashi Nakano, co-founder of Activ8, the digital production company that gives life to Kizuna Ai. And for David Kim, who is a collaborator of Virtual YouTuber in the social network Reddit, "the intrigue of writing characters" is part of the attraction of the phenomenon. But that is not the only explanation. Behind a YouTuber virtual, almost always there is a real human. "I would say that the biggest contributor to the virtual YouTube boom is the large audience outside of Japan that normally has an interest in Japanese media and culture, like anime," says another fanatic, Kit Hakansson. While Izumi Tsuji, professor of Sociology and Culture at Chuo University, evokes the famous Japanese sociologist Munesuke Mita to explain why in the Asian country there is a long tradition of preferring people. virtual presentations to reales.Mita stated that, as a result of the slowdown in economic growth after the world oil crisis in the 1970s, many Japanese developed apathy with reality, which seems to last until today. that period we started to love the anime characters and the idols of video games, over the movie stars and music, "says Tsuji, for whom a good example of this is Hatsune Miku, the famous holographic pop star in Japan, whose voice is produced digitally. But could they end up replacing human vloggers? avatarAn argument against this possibility is that vlogging is one of the cheapest ways to make videos, because nothing else is needed that someone turn on a camera, speak and publish. It is true that there may be some editing, but do not need to expensive sets or special effects. The appeal of virtual characters often hides complex reasons. So why replicate a talking head with another more expensive version? Well, because a virtual character can be used in scales and forms beyond the reach of humans: they can appear in video games and applications outside of YouTube and, as VR and AR technology improves, they can even hold virtual reality concerts. (The VTuber Kaguya Luna did that earlier this year). Perhaps because of that, the American comedian duo Rhett & Link published a vlog that has seen 2.5 million times over the worrying possibility that YouTube users Virtual replace humans. After all, they never tire. Their appearances can be changed at will. And they never demand payment or more donations. But do not worry, humans: there are already cheap applications that YouTubers can use on their smartphones to make virtual vloggers of themselves. Technology makes the transformation into virtual personalities easier and easier. of them is FaceRig, a Romanian facial recognition application funded by crowdfunding that is an economical way for people to turn their facial expressions into digital cartoons using their smartphones, similar to Apple's Animoji. And this fall, Gree will launch an application Live broadcast in which users can create a VTuber of themselves on their smartphone. "Many people have the desire to 'want to be characters'," says Sugiyama from Gree, noting the global popularity of cosplay at the conventions of fanatics. And, for Sugiyama, the success of the VTubers in Japan is not only explained by the existence of loyal fans. aponeses are not good to express themselves openly, and I think there are many people who really want to send [su mensaje] the world, but do not want to reveal their appearance ", ventures. While Alexnader Pechev, the CEO of Ikinema, a British animation company working on the subject, believes that in the future we could train avatars to act like us without having to re-record our movements. Are you ready to become a virtual character? "You do not have to do 100% of what we do, not even 80%," he says, but a character can be programmed with our voice and with enough of our movements so that I can interact with friends and family after we are dead. "I could interact with other virtual avatars, or real people. Can we live forever? "Speculates Pechev. And Nakano, from Kizuna Ai's team, wants something similar for her:" We would like to create a world like Ready Player One, "he says, referring to the film and the novel set in a huge virtual dimension. And what else does the future hold for Ai-chan, as her fans call her? Nakano also mentions television commercials and a global music festival that takes place online in virtual reality and is becoming in phenomenon. And for now you can also keep up with your favorite VTuber or buy T-shirts in your online store. But as Sugiyama says about the trend of the VTubers, that "it will allow all human beings to free themselves from physical limitations ", maybe in the future you will also become one.

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