Growing with the Metaverse, China’s Virtual Human Market Size Could Reach $42.4 Billion by 2030

Photo: CGV

China Media Group recently unveiled an artificial intelligent sign language (AI) virtual anchor, which will be used throughout the upcoming Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics and Paralympics to help broadcast sign language events. Well-known singer Teresa Teng, who died in 1995, was part of a virtual human performance at the recent New Year’s Gala presented on Jiangsu Television.

These are the latest examples of virtual humans, which have recently been trending on social media, as well as buzz around the metaverse. And high-tech companies are investing.

In fact, 2021 was considered the first year of the Metaverse. Virtual humans, which serve as a human-computer interface in the context of the metaverse, have become popular again, industry insiders said, adding that the development of 5G, AI and VR technologies have fueled the virtual industry.

The financial returns of virtual idols are mainly generated through live streaming platform membership fees, live streaming rewards, brand endorsements, and appearance fees.

According to a UBS report, the average initial cost of advanced virtual characters is 30 million yuan ($4.7 million). For example, it currently costs about 2 million yuan to produce a single sung by virtual girl group A-Soul, and 20 million yuan to hold an offline concert.

A survey showed that only 6.3% of people are willing to spend more than 500 yuan on virtual idols, still a relatively low figure. With more than 8 million followers, Liu Yexi, a virtual idol, has yet to make a profit and is still able to spend money to attract traffic.

Huge market

But investors and industry insiders remain optimistic about the future prospects for virtual humans.

“In the past two years, the epidemic has limited the space for human activities. After a long period of activities in a limited setting, it is inevitable that people yearn for the virtual world, and the charm of virtual people lies in the wealth of possibilities for future applications,” an employee named Zhang of a Beijing-based artificial intelligence company that specializes in creating virtual humans told the Global Times on Monday.

By 2030, the total size of the Chinese virtual human market is expected to reach 270 billion yuan ($42.4 billion), according to an industry report released by QbitAI on December 23, 2021.

The market size of character-based virtual humans will be around 175 billion yuan and that of service-oriented virtual humans will exceed 95 billion by 2030. The current market is still in its infancy, the report reads. .

Zhang also said that virtual humans have a wide range of application settings, not only limited to entertainment, but also education, broadcasting, among a range of other fields.

“Can you imagine how inspired a child would be if it was Elsa from Frozen teaching them English? Virtual humans could have a great future in the education sector,” Zhang said.

Zhang also mentioned the wide application of virtual human in the service industry. “Unlike pure voice and machine, virtual human services are close to the real human.”

In 2021, virtual humans have attracted considerable attention and have broken the “circle”.

Related technologies, such as virtual live broadcast, virtual spokespersons, AI, have been developed by taking advantage of the underlying technology, and the cost and production threshold have been greatly reduced, an investor Beijing-based surnamed Jia, who has been involved in the high-tech sector for years, the Global Times said on Monday.

“On the demand side, with the growth of Generation Z, there is currently an audience of between 200 and 300 million people for the pan-two-dimensional space in China,” Jia said.

Businesses have seen the benefits created by virtual humans. Many idols or public figures have been mired in national scandals in 2021, leading companies to assess the risk of hiring an actual human idol, industry insiders have claimed.

A subsidiary of ByteDance, the parent company of TikTok, on Thursday sponsored Hangzhou Liweike Technology Co, which unveiled its flagship virtual AI digital character Li Weike with a real emotional connection in October 2021.

Beginning phase

“The level of virtual human development in China is about the same as overseas. Although Japan, Europe and the United States started earlier, China has caught up in recent years. There are good signs in the industry moving from quantitative change to qualitative change,” Jia said.

China released policies to encourage innovation and virtual human development in October 2021, explicitly supporting virtual character development for the first time.

According to the plan released by the National Radio and Television Administration, China will promote the large-scale application of virtual anchors and animated sign language in the production of news broadcasts, weather forecasts, variety shows, scientific and educational programs.

As early as the 1970s, research on the virtual human began in academia. Virtual humans, or computer-synthesized characters, referred to the representation of human geometric and behavioral characteristics in a computer-generated virtual space or environment.

Generally speaking, the virtual human industry is still in its start-up phase, and there is still a lot of room for development, including the business model, which has not been fully determined, according to Jia.

“In the future, it is possible that everyone will have their own avatar, the equivalent of today’s personal social media account. There will be personal information protection issues,” Jia warned.

Strengthening the measured use of facial data and AI technology is necessary for the industry’s development, insiders said, referring to China’s big data and personal information protection regulations.

Virtual humans have gradually developed into a frontier interdisciplinary field involving computer graphics, kinematics and dynamics, multifunctional perception, AI and virtual reality.

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