VTubers: will the most popular influencers become virtual in the future?
The rise of VTubers on YouTube explained
When YouTuber Kizuna AI’s first video came online at the end of 2016, it was the beginning of a new movement. In her videos, Kizuna plays games, cooks, performs and answers her viewers’ questions. That sounds like many other influencers on YouTube. Yet, she is very different. This is because Kizuna is not a flesh-and-blood human being. She is completely virtual and the world’s very first VTuber. What started as a niche format in Japan went global during the pandemic. And with the rise of more advanced AI technology, we are at the dawn of a new generation of creators: the VTuber.
What are VTubers?
VTubers stands for “Virtual YouTubers” and they are virtual characters active on YouTube and other video platforms. The term was first used by Kizuna AI, a creation of the Japanese technology company Activ8. Although she was the first VTuber, she’s no longer the only one. Popular VTubers like Kizuna AI, Houshou Marine, and Haachama generate millions of views and have built a loyal audience all over the world.
First Asia, now the rest of the world
It is easy to dismiss VTubers as a funny Asian phenomenon. But in doing so, you are selling it short. More and more VTubers are making their appearance in the ‘real’ world. For instance, Hatsune Miku was already a guest at David Letterman to promote her US tour. There are also specific influencer agencies that represent a whole stable of VTubers. These agencies (such as Hololive, V-Reverie and Alterly) are growing fast and are now also making the move from Asia to the United States and Europe. VTubers are no longer limited to just YouTube, but they are also making inroads on Twitch, TikTok and other social media. VTubing has grown into a full-fledged industry with tens of millions in revenue, in just a few years. To illustrate: for instance, several VTubers earn hundreds of thousands of dollars on an annual basis from super chats (these are small donations from fans for prominent chat messages) and the VTube channels have fan merchandise for sale. It is therefore easy to imagine that soon Dutch-speaking or Swedish-speaking virtual creators will become popular.
A solution for burn outs?
The extremely popular Dutch gamer and influencer ‘Kwebbelkop’ has also been using a virtual character for some time now: Bloo. Jordi van den Bussche (Kwebbelkop’s real name) introduced early last year his virtual counterpart who can replace him so that he finally has some peace of mind. After all, it doesn’t matter who reads Bloo’s lyrics. Whoever sits behind the camera and reads out the script, the software makes sure that person looks and sounds like Bloo. In an interview with Dutch newspaper Trouw, he indicated that this could be the solution for more influencers suffering from the same problem: creator burnout. This is because the success of a channel revolves entirely around a person. If they stop uploading videos, the whole business grinds to a halt. This pressure leads to physical and mental problems for many an influencer. Virtual influencers obviously do not have this problem.
VTubers & AI
Where the first VTubers were based on flesh-and-blood voice actors, AI is now making inroads there too. Neuro-Sama, for instance, is a VTuber built with artificial intelligence. In no time, Neuro-Sama has amassed nearly 100,000 followers on the streaming platform Twitch. AI not only enables the VTuber to play and stream games completely independently, but also to interact with her audience. This allows her to respond directly and wittily to comments from her followers. It does have a team of moderators behind it to make sure the conversations don’t get out of hand but Neuro-Sama is designed to work better and better as more interaction takes place.
In an interview with Motherboard, the brain behind Neuro-Sama says that it has been in development since 2018 and that they have plans to build on this success with more games and characters. No doubt we will see more VTubers emerging in the near future to harness the power of AI.
Will all creators become virtual in the future?
The rise of VTubers brings with it the question of how this will evolve. Will soon all influencers be virtual and creators of flesh and blood unemployed? That is not to be expected right away, but thanks to data (and especially AI) we will see more and more advanced applications of influencers/creators at work. This offers new opportunities for both creator, brand and agency. Did you know that as a brand you can already use data to set up an influencer campaign? This way you match right influencers, who are the best fit with your target group. On top of that, you’ll make sure that both strategy and creation are based on the actual interests of your target group. We wrote a blog about data-driven influencer marketing. You can read it down below.
Co-Founder / Product Lead