MRM Change Series : Virtual Entertainers
Japan’s all-digital idols pave the way for exciting branded experiences in immersive digital realms
This article initially featured in our The Decade of Change report, a detailed trends analysis reviewing the key drivers of change and how they will impact brands and consumers.
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The continual rise in “virtual YouTubers” like Kizuna A.I in Japan has sidestepped and disrupted Japan’s normally fiercely competitive idol and entertainment industries – typically run by talent agencies who rule with an iron fist.
These YouTubers often livestream and produce variety content around gaming, music, collaborate with each other and make occasional appearances (in their virtual forms) on television programs.
While especially popular in Japan, virtual YouTubers exist internationally as well. Brands like Mattel have used their characters in the past to create content on YouTube for kids.
In Japan however, their growing popularity along with the rise of streaming content producers has created a whole new generation of fans as well as future content creators. A study conducted by Sony in 2019 found that over 30% of middle school boys’ first choice in professional goals included “Professional YouTuber”. For middle school girls, the most popular profession (18%) was Entertainer (singer/actress).
In the next couple of years the collision of consumer VR via shared spaces (the most recent phenomenon being VR Chat), entertainment, and streaming will come together. YouTube normal video will no longer be enough for fans who want new ways to interact with digital characters.
Companies like Cluster are building VR arenas where virtual performers can hold concerts, conventions, and brand-powered experiences. In a time where viral- induced social distancing has put more people behind their screens held up on their homes, an increase in VR experiences of museums and public places have already been on the rise. With society becoming more comfortable on the internet, VR arenas, platforms, and virtual entertainers may see a rise sooner than we think.
Many brands will remember the popularity, allure, and straight up confusion brought on by the sudden popularity and complete anarchy of Second Life in the west. The cycle of capitalism is now complete, online chat is no longer the wild west, and savvy consumers are now ready to participate in a wave of entertainment created from communities on the internet itself. The rise of E-sports and other virtually-driven communities only add to this trend. This is an opportunity for digitally native entertainment brands to take another look at persistent digital worlds.