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Chinese Businesses Can 'Hire' A Virtual Employee For $14k Annually

Chinese Businesses Can 'Hire' A Virtual Employee For $14k Annually
Businesses in China are paying top dollar for virtual employees in fields ranging from customer service to the entertainment industry.
The number of virtual people projects completed for clients by Baidu has more than doubled since last year, with prices ranging from $2,800 to $14,300 per year.
Virtual people are digitized human beings who can sing and even interact on a livestream thanks to a combination of animation, sound technology, and machine learning. While these digital beings have appeared on the outskirts of the US internet, they are becoming more prevalent in China's cyberspace.
Financial services companies, local tourism boards, and state media are among the buyers of virtual people, according to Li Shiyan, head of Baidu's virtual people and robotics business.
Costs have dropped by about 80% since last year as technology improves, he claims. A three-dimensional virtual person costs around 100,000 yuan ($14,300) per year, while a two-dimensional virtual person costs 20,000 yuan.
Li anticipates that the virtual person industry will continue to grow at a 50% annual rate through 2025.
China is making significant investments in the development of virtual people.
Beijing announced in August a plan to grow the municipal virtual people industry to more than 50 billion yuan by 2025.
The municipal government also called for the establishment of one or two "leading virtual people businesses" with annual revenues of more than 5 billion yuan each.
This fall, central government ministries issued a detailed plan for incorporating more virtual reality, particularly in broadcasting, manufacturing, and other industries. The country's most recent five-year plan, unveiled last year, included a call for greater economic digitalization, including virtual and augmented reality.
Much of the focus in business is on how virtual people can generate content.
According to Sirius Wang, chief product officer and head of marketplace Greater China at Kantar, brands in China are looking for alternative spokespeople after many celebrities recently received negative press about tax evasion or personal scandals.
According to a Kantar survey published this fall, at least 36% of consumers had watched a virtual influencer or digital celebrity perform in the previous year. According to the report, 21% had seen a virtual person host an event or broadcast the news.
According to the Kantar report, 45% of advertisers said they might sponsor a virtual influencer's performance or invite a virtual person to a brand's event next year.
Many of China's major technology companies have already begun to develop products in the field of virtual humans.
Bilibili, a video and game streaming app, was among the first to popularize the concept of virtual people. The company bought out the team behind virtual singer Luo Tianyi, whose image and sound are entirely generated by technology. According to Bilibili, this year's developers focused on improving the texture of the virtual singer's voice using an artificial intelligence algorithm.
Luo Tianyi, who debuted in 2012, has nearly 3 million followers and recently performed at the Winter Olympics opening ceremony in Beijing.
Bilibili also hosts a large number of virtual anchors, which are direct avatars of people who use special technology to reach their target audience. According to the company, 230,000 virtual anchors have begun broadcasting on its platform since 2019, with virtual anchor broadcasting time increasing by approximately 200% over last year.
Tencent stated in its most recent earnings call that Tencent Cloud AI Digital Humans provides chatbots for automated customer support in industries such as financial services and tourism. Next Studios, a division of the company, also created a virtual singer and a virtual sign language interpreter.
Smaller businesses are also entering the industry.
Well-Link Technologies, whose cloud rendering tech support for Chinese video game developer miHoYo propelled it to success in the gaming industry, announced this year that it has developed yet another virtual person model in collaboration with Haixi Media.

Christopher J. Mitchell

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