In the past few months, there are probably more people watching videos on their smartphones and tablets. I’ve personally spent about 20% more time watching videos on YouTube and Amazon Prime Video.
Japanese entertainment is moving towards such video distribution services too, as many singers, entertainers, TV talents and idols move to YouTube.
This time, I’ll be discussing the rise of Virtual YouTubers, or Vtubers.
Japan’s characters and animation are popular around the world, and I consider VTubers part of that brand of content. Additionally, given its growth as of 2020 as an industry, I believe services building that platform and making use of AI are about to become much livelier.
What is a VTuber?
A VTuber (Virtual YouTuber) is a YouTuber whose appearance is left to illustrations or CG. Ordinary people can voice and animate such characters too, but there are many people who work as talents at VTuber agencies.
Many of them take part in live streaming of video games, collaborations and other planned events.
Kizuna Ai, who began activity in December 2016, was the first to use the word VTuber. After this, companies managing VTubers increased in number, grew and carried out collaborative events with many businesses. Businesses themselves began to have their own VTubers, original songs and contents, and are otherwise growing their fanbase.
Profits come from these corporate tie-ins, original merchandise, sale of songs, and the superchat tipping system that YouTube has.
Proactive investment by businesses
Businesses are also actively investing in VTubers. In particular, they set up productions that offer platforms and carry out management.
GREE, which distributes social video games in Japan, founded the VTuber business Wright Flyer Live Entertainment as a child company, and also hosts the virtual live distribution app REALITY as well as managing VTuber production. Using REALITY can make starting out much easier.
At gumi, likewise a social video game distributor, they collaborated with investor Activ8 ’s ‘upd8 ’ to form a training program for virtual talent.
CyberAgent, a major IT corporation, has CyberZ as one of its subsidiaries, which has in turn founded the management company CyberV, specialising in VTuber business.
Among new businesses in the industry, we have Mirrativ gaining 3.1 billion yen in investments to develop VTuber platforms, and Bitstar gathering 1.3 billion in investments for YouTuber influencer marketing, showing that the market has grown greatly in the last 1 or 2 years. VTubers are attracting growing recognition, and as their virtual presence grows, they should find a ready audience with children and older generations as well. This has been accelerated in 2020 by the novel coronavirus.
VTuber companies to pay attention to
As written above, VTubers can be started by individuals with a low starting investment, but here, I will introduce the three VTuber companies I’ve had my eyes on.
A large office with nearly 100 VTubers. While VTubers are typically women and aiming for a cute aesthetic, Nijisanji’s VTubers are more varied, including handsome men and androgynous/neutral characters.
A company with lively activity in Japan, China and the rest of Asia. The Hololive cast are idol-like women VTubers, but as the breadth of character concepts varies a lot, you should be able to find a character that you like.
774inc (pronounced ‘nanashi inc’) has a smaller number of VTubers compared to others, but all the women working there are very unique. There are four groups, who are active in various events, song releases, collaboration with VTubers from other companies and so on. Their scale is smaller than other companies, so personally, I’ll be watching them carefully.
Many opportunities for engineers
The hurdle for becoming an active VTuber has dropped a long way. At the same time, if you want to join a VTuber business as an engineer, there’s a lot of work to be done, such as building cloud infrastructure, creating distribution and viewing apps in Unity etc., new methods of data use through AI, developing new services, and so on.
If you want to try engineering in the entertainment business, this might be a fun line of work for you.
I hope this demonstrated the appeal and possibilities in VTubers. Since VTubers active in Japan typically speak Japanese, discovering them is useful for getting used to Japanese as well. The genre is full of new discoveries, and the content has become more approachable for worldwide audiences, so I recommend watching VTubers as one way to know more about Japan.
If you turn out to be a fan, why not put your engineering skill to use in the entertainment world?