The world of virtual idols is big business

Yao Minji
The virtual world is expanding, and virtual idols, like all sub-genres of e-celebrities, are varied and diversified. It has also become a thriving industry in China.
Yao Minji

As the number of virtual YouTubers grows around the world, so does their revenue.

Japanese news outlets said last week that the subculture had turned into a profitable business, with top accounts making more than a million dollars a year.

Virtual idols, like all sub-genres of e-celebrities, are extremely diverse. It has also become a thriving industry in China.

According to Chen Rui, CEO of Bilibili, more than 324,000 virtual idols opened accounts on the site in June 2020, a 40-percent increase year over year. The streaming website boasts the livestreamig of most Chinese virtual idols.

They will not marry. They are unable to take medications. You don't have to worry about them being bullied by other celebrities or not being paid enough to eat like a real-life idol, right?

Wait. Fans of A-Soul may disagree.

The world of virtual idols is big business

The five-member virtual girls' band debuted in December 2020 and broadcasts live on Bilibili on a regular basis. On average, videos on its official account on the site received over 1.5 million views, with one particular music video receiving over five million views.

Last week, the band announced that Carol, one of the members, would go into "livestream hibernation" due to health difficulties and the need to devote more time and energy at school. Carol will no longer be a part of the group's regular webcast or most of its activities.

Fans, 70 percent of whom are between the ages of 18 and 23, were outraged and turned it into a top trending issue on Weibo and other social media platforms. They accused the corporation of intimidating employees, pushing them to work excessively long hours, and disclosing personal information.

But how do health and homework affect a virtual idol, which is a computer-generated animated image? How could it (she) be overworked to the point of resignation?

They were referring to the idols' voice actors. Virtual idols and computer-generated sounds can't yet handle livestreaming conversations, after all, and practically all virtual YouTubers and Bilibiliers have a real person's voice behind them. Some people may have several.

Many followers, as they get emotionally attached to their virtual idols, show equal concern for the performer behind the scenes. Many A-Soul fans are also concerned that Carol may merely take a break and return with a new voice.

A few days later, the A-Soul producing committee issued an apology, disputing accusations of bullying and labor deprivation. There will be no new members recruited to the group, and Carol will not get a new voice actress. It also made public some parts of their labor contracts pertaining to their earnings.

Yes, virtual idols, or at least the people who perform them, should be protected by labor rules. But, what happens when there is no longer a need for a live performer behind the scenes?

Are we looking at a law to govern artificial intelligence in the near future?

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