China accounts for 905 million netizens. Over 60% of them are engaging with some form of live streaming. The country is the world leader in combining live streaming with online shopping. According to digital brand researcher L2, more than 100 million Chinese viewers are watching a live online video event every month. It has become a powerful tool, with Deloitte reporting that China’s live-streaming revenue can hit $4.4 billion this year.

Especially during the Covid-19 pandemic, e-commerce live streaming became the biggest live streaming sector, overtaking the video game industry. New trends in e-commerce live streaming continue to arise as celebrities, virtual idols, sales staff, and even CEOs have now joined the Livestream hosting ranks. Besides, there’s also a feeling of authenticity that comes from live streaming. Bear in mind that the Chinese government owns all TV concessions, with controlled plots and themes.

In 2016, former Givenchy creative director Riccardo Tisci designed an haute couture dress for Hatsune Miku. Created in 2007, the virtual idol is considered the first virtual pop star. She made her first appearance as a holographic projection at a Japanese music festival in 2009. On video-sharing websites like Bilibili.com, Douyin, and Taobao Live, content with anime and virtual celebrities is getting particularly popular among Chinese Generation Z.

Riccardo Tisci and virtual idol Hatsune Miku. Photo: Jing Daily

The pandemic has given an additional impetus to CGI options

Since March, the virtual singer Luo Tianyi has hosted promotional live streaming sessions with real Chinese KOLs (key opinion leaders). Live online viewers peaked at 2.7 million, in collaboration with brands included Midea, L’Occitane, Nanfu Battery, and Bausch + Lomb. E-commerce companies have also experimented with their virtual influencers. In 2019, the Chinese luxury e-commerce platform Secoo launched Madang Sasa, a virtual spokesperson. Alibaba’s Tmall, which previously signed virtual model Noonoouri as an ambassador, has also created its own virtual influencer Aimée. In March, Prada and Miu Miu chose Aimée to connect with Generation Z netizens.

There is no doubt that the Covid-19 lockdown strengthened the exploration of computer-generated imagery (CGI) options. Chinese marketers highlight some advantages. Compared with real idols, virtual ones do not smoke, drink, or associate inappropriately with fans. They can also work all year without a break. More wholesome and hard-working than their living counterparts, virtual idols present fewer risks for brands. And their working lives can, of course, be indefinitely extended.