Companies can ‘hire’ a virtual person in China for around $14k a year

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Virtual singer Luo Tianyi will perform together with world-renowned pianist Long Long at the Mercedes-Benz Arena in Shanghai, China in 2019. Launched in 2012, Luo Tianyi has nearly 3 million fans and even performed at the Winter Olympics opening ceremony in Beijing this year.

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BEIJING — From customer service to the entertainment industry, businesses in China are paying big for virtual employees.

Institute of Technology Bye The number of virtual people programs working for clients has doubled over the past year, with a wide price range ranging from $2,800 to $14,300 per year.

Virtual People is a combination of animation, sound technology and machine learning to create digitized human beings who can sing and interact on a livestream. Although these digital beings appear on the fringes of the American Internet, they are increasingly emerging in China’s cyberspace.

Buyers of virtual people include financial services companies, local tourism boards and state media, said Li Xian, head of Baidu’s virtual people and robotics business.

As technology improves, costs have come down by about 80% over last year, he said. A three-dimensional virtual person costs 100,000 yuan ($14,300) a year, while a two-dimensional one costs 20,000 yuan.

Li expects the virtual person industry as a whole to grow 50% annually through 2025.

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From a business perspective, the focus is on how virtual people can create content.

After several celebrities have recently come out with negative news about tax evasion or personal misconduct, brands in China are looking for alternative spokespeople, said Sirius Wang, chief product officer and head of Greater China, Market Area at Kandhar.

Nov. Dancers perform with virtual digital figures at the Future Life Festival 2022 in Hangzhou, China on April 4, 2022.

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According to a survey released by Kantar this fall, at least 36% of consumers have seen the performance of a virtual influencer or digital celebrity in the past year. Twenty-one percent have seen a virtual person host an event or broadcast a message, the report said.

Looking ahead to next year, Kantar reports that 45% of advertisers may sponsor a virtual influencer’s performance or invite a virtual person to join a brand’s event.

The growing development of virtual people

Many of China’s biggest tech companies are already developing products in the field of virtual humans.

Video and game streaming application Bilibili Virtual People was one of the earliest to take the concept mainstream.

The company acquired the team behind virtual singer Luo Tianyi, whose image and sound were created entirely by technology. According to Bilibili, this year, developers focused on improving the texture of the virtual singer’s voice through artificial intelligence algorithms.

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Launched in 2012, Luo Tianyi has nearly 3 million fans and even performed at the Winter Olympics opening ceremony in Beijing this year.

Blibili offers a number of virtual announcers, which are live avatars of people who use special technology to reach audiences. The company said that since 2019, 230,000 virtual announcers have started broadcasting on its platform, and that the airtime of virtual announcers this year has increased by about 200% compared to last year.

In its recent earnings call, Tencent said that Tencent Cloud AI Digital Humans provides chatbots for industries like financial services and tourism for automated customer support. The company’s Next Studio has also been developed Virtual singer and virtual sign language interpreter.

Very small companies are also venturing into this industry.

Startup Well-Link Technologies — whose cloud rendering technology has brought success to Chinese video game developer miHoYo in the gaming industry — announced this year that it has created another model of a virtual person in a joint venture with Hixi Media.


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