The first use of a CG avatar for vlogging purposes on YouTube was by Ami Yamato who began creating such videos in 2011. However, this style was not popularised, nor was the term "Virtual YouTuber" used, until Kizuna AI in 2016. In late 2017, she received a massive popularity spike, going from 200,000 to over 2,000,000 subscribers in 10 months. Her sudden popularity sparked a trend of VTubers, with an estimated 4,000 in 2018.
Campaigns involving Virtual YouTubers
Due to their immense popularity, companies and organisations have used VTubers as a method of advertising or bringing attention to a product or service. When SoftBank announced the release of the iPhone XS and XS Max in 2018, Kizuna AI appeared at the event as well as promoting it on her channel. She is also currently the ambassador of the Japan National Tourism Organization. Another virtual star was debuted by the Ibaraki Prefectural Government called Hiyori Ibara, with aims for the Virtual YouTuber to become a symbol of Ibaraki. Hiyori is the first VTuber to be used by a municipal or prefectural government.
In August 2018, Wright Flyer Live Entertainment, which is owned by Gree Inc., released a mobile application that allows virtual stars to live stream videos while monetising them and connecting with their viewers. In a news conference in Tokyo, the head of Wright Flyer Live Entertainment stated that the firm wanted to help virtual stars, but that “just increasing the number [of virtual star] is not that effective. We want them to keep on doing their activities. (To do that), gaining fans and monetization are essential. So, we are providing a platform to support that.” This follows a ¥10 billion ($89.35 million) investment by parent company Gree into VTubers, as well as a ¥10 billion profit target by 2020.
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- Nagata, Kazuaki. "Gree-owned firm launches app aimed at boosting Japan's booming world of 'virtual YouTubers'". The Japan Times. Archived from the original on 14 February 2019. Retrieved 14 February 2019.