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VTubers are coming – you heard it here 1st! Get ready to be SHOCKED…

The content creator economy has grown quickly…and it’s about to take on a new dimension with the onset of VTubers

VTubers and virtual content creators
image courtesy of author

Virtual what?

VTubers – you heard it here first.

Content creation, and the content creator economy, is a very real, and tangible stream of revenue. And, its trajectory is only set to go one way – you’ve guessed it…up!

The figures are pretty compelling. The creator economy market size is currently estimated at $104.2 billion. Since 2019, only three years ago, its value has doubled. There are an estimated 200 million creators in the creator economy. That’s four times more than the last estimated number of 50 million.

The platforms from which creators can make money has also expanded. YouTube has always been the creator’s first choice for monetisation, and it remains king. In offering creators a 55/45 split of the advertising revenue, good money is there to be made. But now, Instagram and TikTok are pulling their socks up, and getting in on attracting top-flight creators to their platforms.

Change is coming

Part of the appeal, certainly of YouTube, is becoming invested, personally, with your favourite creators. We enjoy sharing their lives, and experiences, and just spending time with them. The personal touch is important – or should I perhaps, now be saying, was important.

What if I told you, that there are some hugely successful creators and channels out there, that are not actual people, but created, images? They are so real, that at first glance, they are super hard to spot. Viewers interact with these VTubers as if they were real people too. The numbers these ‘stars’ are attracting are proof of the growth of this side of the economy as well. For example, Lilmiquela has posted over 1250 posts and has 2.9 million followers. Shudu has a following of 238,000. This appears to be only the tip of a lucrative iceberg as well. The doors are only just opening up to this latest departure in the content creators’ economy, and, as the layers are pulled back, it is fascinating.

I first became aware of the VTubers world, when listening to an excellent episode of the Waveform Podcast from MKBHD, when he, and guest Hasan Minhaj brought the subject up.

That sent me off down a few rabbit warrens, wanting to explore, and find out more about the future of virtual YouTube, VTubers, and virtual creators.

The back-story

Unlike, flat, one dimensional characters that we have seen in the past, this new brand of VTubers, have a whole life, and story going on behind them, and this is what draws in their followers. To be clear, these VTubers, are not AI, but created as 3D renders by an artist. Lilmiquela has a YouTube channel with 281,000 subs, a music video, and even a therapist! She (or it – take your pick), is a nineteen-year old girl, and is created in the essence of a perfect Gen-Z girl. She hangs with friends, and goes shopping, and is seen in all the places an actual nineteen-year old girl would be seen. Lilmiquela was created by Brud, in 2016, and was the first of the virtual influencers.

Home-grown success

Cameron-James Wilson, is the creator behind Shudu. His agency, The Diigitals, is the world’s first modelling agency for virtual celebrities. And, whereas you may have been accustomed to these agencies working out of Rome, Paris, Los Angeles, New York, or London, in the case of The Diigitals, try a small, leafy, seaside town in the UK, near Weymouth!

With a voice now being added to Shudu, it means she is available for interviews too. Eventually, Shudu will also be available for video shoots and premieres – I’m guessing movies will not be too far down the road at this rate either. Trust me, I am struggling to keep up, and I am writing it!

Much as if you were looking to book a real model agencies website, The Diigitals, has a choice of models, to suits all needs. Brenn, for example, is a mixed race, over-size model, Boyce is a non-binary, transgender male model, and Koffi a great looking black guy, with a bodybuilder’s physique.

This all goes to what I was saying earlier, these virtual models have stories, and characters attached to them. And the beauty of this kind of model is, should the trends change, and a new look required, then, Wilson can set about creating a model to fit that niche.

Obvious benefits

Researching this article, made me realise that there are even environmental benefits to these VTubers. In the past, castings would have taken place, and then models flown from around the world for a day’s shoot. Of course, it doesn’t stop at the model, either. You’d require hair, make-up, photographers, runners. Setting up a shoot, is a big deal, and costly. Booking Shudu doesn’t come cheap, but at least you are not dealing with temper-tantrums!

Real models, also have frailty – sick days, hang-overs, headaches, COVID! Any of those can lead to a whole shoot being cancelled last moment. Shudu or Koffi would never have such ‘off’ days. They also don’t have ridiculous, extensive riders either.

And brands can safely associate with them knowing there will be no bad press, no scandals, no foul-mouthed tirades, and as importantly, no ageing. The brand association can live forever, aimed at a certain age group or demographic.

Is there money to be made?

You better believe it!

VTubers are growing in popularity. Already very popular in Japan, YouTube estimate that there are around 5000 channels, whose stars are virtual. Between January 2018 – May 2021, they were viewed a billion times. Year-on-year, that was a growth of 50%.

These VTubers have agents. More accurately, in the case of Shudu, her creator has an agent. The agent represents him, and he represents Shudu. Deals are found by the agent that suit both the brand, and, the talent.

Brands are all too familiar with associating themselves with creators, and using their platforms to bring their products to a wider audience. The formula is cast, and it is now a well trodden path. Trying to establish what the VTubers are worth, well, the playbook being used, is the same one used for human creators.

Money is paid for a post, story, reel etc, and as a rule of thumb, the metric of $1000 per 100,000 subscribers is not too far from the tree. And looking at The Diigitals site, they, or their VTubers have worked with BMW, Lexus, Vogue, Balmain, Elle & Louboutin. If Shudu were a human model, she’d be AA list level.

When these contracts are being agreed, Shudu, is thought, and talked about, in the same way an actual model would be. So, associations are only made if they are thought to represent both parties well. And yes, Shudu has intellectual property rights. Shudu is a business.

Product placement

Watching these models, you will see them wearing brands, and clothes from some of the big fashion houses. This is another branch of the creator economy, that is witnessing growth.

Whereas an influencer can simply be sent an item pop it on, and take a picture, in this new virtual world, companies will digitise, and recreate perfect copies of a jacket, jeans, or a scarf. Those digital garments are then worn by our virtual models. There are even virtual stylists for the models as well.

The clothes you see in these videos can earn money too. If you fancied that item so much, you can buy it, with Crypto of course, then use it on your avatar. It doesn’t stop there, you can even go on to buy the actual item for yourself.

Wrapping up

I am not of the mind to say, that actual models are a thing of the past. They will still have a role to play. Human models retain that warmth and attachment, that we follow, and ultimately leads us to spend money.

Where the digital influencers win out, for their brands, is with shock. The water-cooler moment. Brands know that one of the best kinds of promotion is trending, and being spoken about. As we are still getting used to this VTuber culture, and the world of digital influencers, that creates shock for the brands. That shock creates interest and sales.

Brud, the company I mentioned earlier that is behind Lilmiquela, has just been acquired by an NFT start up, for $125 million. That is a pretty serious sign that this new branch of the content creator economy, is about to explode.

I know there has been a helluva lot to take in today, but the moment I heard about it, it interested me. And then, the more I researched it, the more it opened up my eyes as to what is about to happen. Is this another nail in the human coffin I wonder?

Just so you know – I am real! This is not being written by a virtual David. But now you say it…

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