August 23, 2022
VTubers are Japan’s latest export, with dozens of the virtual online stars claiming millions of fans and becoming a new breed of influencer, raking in hefty sums on platforms such as YouTube and Twitch. Tokyo-based Hololive Production kicked off the creator trend, which centers on animated personas that stream using motion-capture or AR face-tracking. Complete with their own mythos and origin stories, the characters amass large followings. As of April, Hololive represented more than 65 VTubers, the most popular in English, Gawr Gura, has more than 4 million YouTube subscribers. Now UTA has signed VTubers Shxtou and Baoo for representation.
Although VTuber stands for “virtual YouTuber,” the culture is not limited to that platform. On Twitch, CodeMiko has nearly a million followers. “VTuber avatars usually resemble anime characters,” writes TechCrunch, crediting Kizuna AI (pictured below), “a project of Japanese tech company Activ8,” with coining the term “VTuber.”
In contrast to Japanese “idol culture,” which centers on real-world celebrities, who then have to live up to their lofty images, “VTubers are more free to be themselves, even though they’re performing as a virtual character,” says TechCrunch.
“They exist in this space between anime character and real person,” explained anime YouTuber Gigguk. “But they can explore original ideas or get away with things that other people can’t who exist in the same space.”
According to Tubefilter, UTA’s new talent brings more than a million Twitch followers between them. “Shxtou is known for streaming indie horror games as well as bigger horror titles,” writes Tubefilter. “Baoo is a variety creator who’s recently broadcast gameplay from ‘Elden Ring,’ ‘Fall Guys’, and ‘The Quarry’ alongside frequent ‘Just Chatting’ streams.”
Tubefilter proclaims 2022 “a landmark year for virtual creators,” including VTubers like Ironmouse and Kuzuha, who “have smashed viewership records on platforms like Twitch and YouTube Gaming.” A spike-haired “Grand Theft Auto” VTuber known as Bloo has accrued a half-million subs on his flagship channel, amassing more than 139 million views.
Now brands are jumping on the trend. This month, Kellogg’s Tony the Tiger — the Frosted Flakes mascot since 1952 — made his streaming debut as a Twitch VTuber. TechCrunch reports that “brands like Netflix, Sega and AirAsia have used VTubers in their marketing, but activating the massive fanbase around VTubers isn’t so easy as simply participating.”
Marketing and VTuber expert Teddy Cambosa tells TechCrunch that brands “tapping into the VTuber space need to understand that the demographic is not just for the short-term period. Once they understand the culture and behavior of these fans, they can tap into the fan’s loyalty in order to acquire them as potential customers and retain them in the longer run.”