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

Virtual singer Luo Tianyi performs with world-renowned pianist Lang Lang in 2019 at the Mercedes-Benz Arena in Shanghai, China. Debuting in 2012, Luo Tianyi has nearly 3 million fans and even performed at the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics 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.

technology company Baidu says the number of virtual-person projects it does for clients has doubled since last year, with prices ranging from $2,800 to $14,300 per year.

Virtual people are a combination of animation, audio technology, and machine learning to create digitized human beings that can sing and even interact on a live stream. While these digital creatures have appeared at the edge of the US internet, they have increasingly appeared in China’s cyberspace.

Li Shiyan, head of Baidu’s robotics and virtual human business, said some of the buyers of virtual people include financial services companies, local tourist boards and state media.

He said as technology has improved, costs have dropped by about 80% since last year. It costs about 100,000 yuan ($14,300) a year for a three-way virtual person and 20,000 yuan for a two-way virtual person.

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

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

Sirius Wang, product manager and head of Greater China market at Kantar, said brands in China are looking for alternative spokespeople after many celebrities recently faced negative press about their advertising. tax evasion or personal scandal.

Dancers perform with virtual digital people at the 2022 Future Life Festival in Hangzhou, China, on November 4, 2022.

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At least 36% of consumers watched a virtual influencer or digital celebrity perform in the last year, according to a survey released by Kantar this fall. The report said 21% watched a virtual person host an event or broadcast the news.

In the coming year, 45% of advertisers said they could sponsor a virtual influencer performance or invite a virtual person to a brand event, according to a Kantar report.

The growing growth of virtual people

Many major Chinese technology companies have been developing products in the virtual person industry.

Video and game streaming apps Bilibili was one of the earliest to bring the concept of virtual people into the mainstream.

The company has acquired the team behind virtual singer Luo Tianyi, whose visuals and sounds are entirely technology-generated. According to Bilibili, this year, the developers focused on improving the vocal textures of the virtual singer using artificial intelligence algorithms.

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

Bilibili also hosts many so-called virtual anchors, which are live avatars of people using special technology to reach their audience. The company says 230,000 virtual anchors have started broadcasting on their platform since 2019, and virtual anchor airtime this year has increased by about 200% compared to last year.

Tencent said in its latest earnings call that Tencent Cloud AI Digital Humans provides chatbots for areas like financial services and travel for automated customer support. The company’s Next Studios has also developed a virtual singer and virtual sign language interpreter.

Much smaller companies are also entering the industry.

Startup Well-Link Technologies — whose cloud rendering technology backs Chinese video game developer miHoYo has brought success in the games industry — announced this year that it has develop another virtual person model in joint venture with Haixi Media.


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