- Tech company Baidu said the number of virtual people projects it’s worked on for clients has doubled since 2021.
- Many of China’s large tech companies have already been developing products in the virtual people industry.
- It has a wide price range of as little as $2,800 to a whopping $14,300 per year.
From customer service to the entertainment industry, businesses in China are paying big bucks for virtual employees.
Virtual people are a combination of animation, sound tech and machine learning that create digitized human beings who can sing and even interact on a livestream. While these digital beings have appeared on the fringes of the U.S. internet, they’ve been popping up more and more in China’s cyberspace. Some buyers of virtual people include financial services companies, local tourism boards and state media. China is pushing hard into the development of virtual people.
Beijing city announced in August a plan to build up the municipal virtual people industry into one valued at more than 50 billion yuan by 2025. The municipal authorities also called for the development of one or two “leading virtual people businesses” with operating revenue of more than 5 billion yuan each.
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From a business perspective, much of the focus is on how virtual people can generate content. Brands in China are looking for alternative spokespeople after many celebrities recently ran into negative press about tax evasion or personal scandals, said Sirius Wang, chief product officer and head of marketplace Greater China at Kantar.
Looking ahead to 2023, 45% of advertisers said they might sponsor a virtual influencer’s performance or invite a virtual person to join a brand’s event, according to the Kantar report.
Many of China’s large tech companies have already been developing products in the virtual humans industry. Video and game streaming app Bilibili
was one of the earliest to take the concept of virtual people mainstream. The company acquired the team behind virtual singer Luo Tianyi, whose image and sound are fully created by tech. In the last year, the developers focused on improving the texture of the virtual singer’s voice by using an artificial intelligence algorithm, according to Bilibili.
Bilibili also hosts many so-called virtual anchors, which are the direct avatars of people using special technology to reach their audience. The company said 230,000 virtual anchors started broadcasting on its platform in 2019, and the virtual anchors’ broadcasting time in 2022 surged by about 200% from a year ago. Tencent said in its latest earnings call that Tencent Cloud AI Digital Humans provide chatbots to sectors such as financial services and tourism for automated customer support. Far smaller companies are also getting into the industry.
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