24 Apr Vtubers and how it’s slowly taking over in the Western world
What is a Vtuber?
A virtual YouTuber, also known as a VTuber, is an online entertainment who makes use of a virtual avatar created by computer graphics. It is frequently—but not always—used real-time motion capture software or technology to capture movement. In the middle of the 2010s, Japan was the birthplace of the digital trend, which by the beginning of the 2020s had spread to other countries online.
The majority of VTubers are live streamers or YouTubers who employ avatar designs and speak English or Japanese. There are expected to be over 10,000 active VTubers by 2020. They use platforms like Niconico, Twitch, Facebook, Twitter, and Bilibili in addition to YouTube, which is referenced in the name.
Kizuna AI, a performer, was the first to adopt the term “virtual YouTuber” and she started posting videos to the platform in late 2016. As a result of her success, VTubers became famous in Japan, and large organisations like Hololive Production, Nijisanji, and VShojo were founded to promote them. International interest in the trend has grown as a result of fan translations and VTubers who speak different languages. Virtual YouTube stars have appeared in national commercial campaigns and smashed world records for live streaming.
How popular are VTubers? When did the rise happen?
A VTuber craze was inspired by the rapid popularity of Kizuna AI. The number of active VTubers climbed from 2,000 to 4,000 between May and mid-July 2018. Through their attraction to the anime and manga fandom, the trend started to spread outside of Japan after their first success there. Additionally, to English-language branches aimed towards a global audience, companies like Hololive and Nijisanji established branches in China, South Korea, Indonesia, and India. In the meantime, independent VTubers started to emerge in several nations, from Japan to the US. VTubers had more than 720 million cumulative views and 12.7 million subscribers as of July 2018. There were over 10,000 VTubers by January 2020.
The COVID-19 pandemic increased global video game live-streaming viewership in 2020, which in turn enabled VTubers to develop into a widely accepted phenomenon. Google searches for VTuber-related content have surged throughout 2020, paving the way for the opening of Hololive’s English branch in September 2020. Seven of the top ten Super Chat earners on YouTube in August 2020 were VTubers, including the top earner, Kiryu Coco of Hololive, who had amassed earnings of almost 85 million (about US$800,000 in 2020). With a combined revenue of US$26,229,911 (almost half of which came from viewer donations), VTubers made up 38% of YouTube’s 300 most lucrative channels.
Meanwhile, the number of well-known English-speaking VTubers on Twitch increased, including members of the VShojo Projekt Melody and Ironmouse. Using a model purchased from a VTuber artist, Pokimane (a popular female Twitch streamer) also tested out avatar-based streaming.
YouTube’s 2020 Culture and Trends report highlights VTubers as one of the notable trends of that year, with 1.5 billion views per month by October. Kizuna AI was selected as one of Asia’s top 60 influencers on March 30, 2021. Twitch expanded its tag system in May 2021 by adding a VTuber tag for streams. Gawr Gura, a representative of Hololive’s initial English branch, surpassed Kizuna Ai in July 2021 to become the most subscribed VTuber on YouTube. Ironmouse (another English-speaking Vtuber) racked up the most active paid subscriptions of any streamer on the platform at that time the next month, during a ‘subathon’ event, however, he fell short of Ludwig’s prior record for the entire platform at the time. Data from parent company Amazon shows that VTubing content on Twitch increased by 467% in 2021 compared to the previous year.
How is this trend affecting Western streaming platforms?
Even though the Japanese community is driving this movement by far, Vtubers in the USA are gradually catching up to this Eastern wave. Given that some of the most popular Vtubers are English speakers, it seems clear that the rest of the Western world will soon be dominated by this explosion of Vtubers.
Unsurprisingly, Twitch and YouTube held a monopoly on the total number of viewers across all platforms. The difference between the two shows how prominent these two firms are in the live-streaming and entertainment industries. The latter was far ahead with a 76.1% share of the total hours seen, followed by the Amazon-owned website with the remaining 23.9%.
Along with being the two most viewed languages by viewers among VTubers, Japanese and English garnered 1.7B HW and 42.2M HW, respectively, accounting for 58.5% and 9.3% of the overall share. This meant that more than two-thirds of the viewership allotment for the first quarter of this year of 2023 was consumed by two languages.
Even with the significant Vtuber surge in 2020, having such impressive results in 2023 demonstrates the huge potential of the eventual rise of Virtual YouTubers. More audiences, particularly in America, are spending time and money supporting virtual content producers, and more of them are working with established creators like Valkyrae and Sykunno.
The Vtubering community in the Western world is constantly expanding as a result of this exposure and interest in this new genre. To safeguard their identity and privacy, an increasing number of content producers are going faceless and adding an extra layer of obscurity by becoming Vtubers. In conclusion, this new genre will develop further and may eventually completely dominate the Western audience.