Are Virtual Beings Stepping Out of the Metaverse?




These days your imaginations can literally come to life with the help of technology. At their outworldly appearance, some express bliss, while others take it with a grain of salt or not.


These are digital avatars, developed by artificial intelligence-powered technology and are intended to promote human engagement.

Celebrity virtual idol Luo Tianyi sang five songs in 10 minutes and appeared alongside real-life dancers at the New Year's Eve gala held by Bilibili, a famous short-video sharing platform among young people, to commemorate the 10th anniversary of her debut. The show had over 1.4 billion views.

During the Shanghai broadcaster's New Year spectacular, which was seen by tens of millions of people, a virtual anchor developed by Dragon TV played a flute and danced with celebrity singer Cheng Xiao.

A virtual rock band drew attention at a Sichuan Television concert commemorating the coming of 2023.

Virtual beings at New Year's Eve galas organized by TV stations and internet platforms demonstrate how popular these characters have become in China over the last year. The concept of the metaverse, in which the actual and virtual worlds merge, has also gained traction in recent years.

According to a report on the virtual people sector released in April by the consultancy firm iiMedia Research, the expected market scale of virtual humans was 12.08 billion yuan ($176 million) last year and will reach approximately 20.52 billion yuan this year.


The report says that digital beings are now frequently exploited as emblems, anchors, and employees in the entertainment and cultural industries. This surge in China is mostly driven by Generation Z – those born in the late 1990s or early 2000s, who are perceived to have grown up with digital technology, the internet, and social media.

How Virtual Beings Came Alive

iQiyi, one of China's top streaming services, was among the first to invest in virtual people.

Dimension Nova, a virtual idol talent show founded two years ago, aiming at showcasing such idols to a wider audience. The show created popular hashtags that were viewed over 1.2 billion times on the Sina Weibo microblogging network in two months.

On New Year's Eve, iQiyi hosted Retaland, a four-part virtual concert centered on diverse themes. The performers were all virtual idols, with one of them based on the image of popular celebrity Gong Jun, best known for his part in a martial arts TV show. The concert, according to iQiyi, was primarily geared at Generation Z..

The 2021-founded studio has signed more than a dozen digital beings, including band members, anchors, and influencers.

D.M, one of the studio's top performers, is made up of twin siblings Damian and Millie. The first is a hot rapper, while the second is a cool street dancer. They have their own social media pages and have performed at concerts and art events.

A-Soul is a virtual girl group formed by Yue Hua Entertainment, a leading celebrity agent in China, and consists of five women, each with their own individual flair. Members of the group have millions of social media followers and are in high demand on Bilibili, a short-video sharing site popular with Generation Z..

Bilibili created a section for virtual influencers, such as anchors and idols, in 2019. Chen Rui, the company's CEO, stated at a November meeting that the platform is home to the most virtual influencers in the world. Over 230,000 virtual anchors broadcast music, dance, and game videos to viewers primarily aged 18 to 35. Last year, the platform's broadcast time for virtual influencers increased by 200 percent year on year.

Luo Tianyi, a virtual vocalist who started on Bilibili ten years ago, is the most popular such celebrity. Luo's fans produce music, write lyrics, and design paintings for her, which helps to shape the digital avatar's personality.

Luo performed the song Time to Shine while dressed in a light blue qipao at a cultural event commemorating the Beijing Winter Olympics in February, gaining her exposure to a wider audience. According to media sources, 30 virtual celebrities participated in Winter Olympics-related activities in the Chinese capital, including a digital avatar of champion freestyle skier Gu Ailing.

Unlike Luo, whose appearance is heavily based on animation, many of her colleagues appear to be genuine people.

Tianyu, for example, has more than 3.5 million fans since emerging on the short-video site Douyin in April last year, based after the Flying Apsaras, a motif on frescoes at the Mogao Caves in Dunhuang, Gansu province. Most netizens couldn’t tell whether Tianyu was a real person or not.

Encouraging the Creation of More Virtual Beings

The rise of virtual avatars has been backed by policy backing from both the federal and state governments.

The National Radio and Television Administration announced a proposal in October 2021 to encourage the use of virtual anchors and animated presenters in newscasts, weather forecasts, entertainment shows, and science and education programs.

As a result, many media outlets have hired internet reporters, hosts, and anchors. Many of these employees have provided coverage of big events.

The State Council issued a guideline in May of last year encouraging the use of digital technologies to promote Chinese culture.

Three months later, Beijing unveiled a detailed strategy to grow China's virtual persons business to a market worth more than 50 billion yuan by 2025. The strategy promotes the use of virtual actors in variety acts, concerts, livestreaming, and film projects. It is the city's first plan to address this emerging business.

Ai Wenwen, the China National Museum's first digital employee, joined the institution last year to learn about art collections, art exhibits, and cultural relic research in order to prepare for museum-related employment in cyberspace.

This art form, which started during the Western Zhou Dynasty (c. 11th century-771 BC), is still alive and well in a large part of Northwest China. It was added to the nation's list of intangible cultural heritage in 2006.

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