By Yanelis Garcia
Live streaming continues to be a popular activity in Japan, thanks to the accessibility that smartphones provide. Live streaming is the broadcast of an activity in real time, including a live audience and usually a form of chat as well. There are many different types of live streams such as podcasts, video gaming, playing music, cooking, and creating ASMR content such as mukbang (also known as eating shows), where a host consumes various quantities of food. Although the VTuber phenomenon has only been around for about 5 years – starting as a subculture within the gaming culture – it’s created a profitable niche market within the live streaming world.
This article dives into the VTuber era, the most popular live streaming apps in Japan and how this industry has created a profitable niche market global companies can tap into. We will outline what it takes to enter, the competition, advertising opportunities and how Tokyoesque can help.
The VTuber Era
“VTuber” combines the terms ‘Virtual’ and ‘YouTuber’ together to describe a person who live streams using a 2D or 3D virtual avatar instead of their real-life physical face and body. Oftentimes the human behind the screen uses motion capture to control their character on-screen.
VTubing started in Japan when Japanese streamers started catering to their otaku anime audience. In late 2020, the famous Twitch streamer Pokimane debuted a look-alike 3D anime avatar which became a viral hit amongst streaming audiences. Shortly after, PewDiePie and other Japanese streamers joined, however Kizuna AI is hailed by many as the first VTuber, as she debuted on YouTube in 2016. As part of Kizuna AI Inc. (a subsidiary of Activ8), she caters to the anime and Japanese idol culture, and has more than 3 million subscribers on YouTube. There are now more than 10,000 active VTubers today.
A key reason VTubing has grown worldwide is because streamers are able to protect their identity while still gaining fame and followers. You get to control your gender, voice, race, and overall identity, while satisfying a fantasy through your avatar. It has become so widespread that it encompasses anyone who has an illustrated or fabricated model that represents them while live streaming.
VTubers from the West are usually amateurs or independent creators that stream games or reaction videos, while in Japan, VTube characters are now being developed by studios and are used as influencers for promotional marketing and fan engagement. The most popular ones are created by studios like Polygon Pictures, Hololive Production, Nijisanji, and VShojo, where they train voice actors and pay them to play these characters. There are thousands of independent VTubers as well, making this niche industry one with high growth potential.
While not necessary, most VTubers use motion capture technology to create more sophisticated avatars, and live streaming experiences for their audience. A streamer typically acquires a movable 3D or 2D character, software that supports real-time motion capture such as Blender, Unity, Unreal, iClone or Live2D, and motion-capture tracking hardware such as head caps or suits, to get started.
After building a fan base, such as subscribers on Twitch or followers on an independent site, VTubers can actually make money from their live streams, through advertising placements that provide a profit-sharing model. VTubers have also appeared in marketing campaigns, most notably the Japanese National Tourism Organization’s ‘Come to Japan’ video featuring Kizuna AI (featured at the top of this article).
A number of YouTube influencers have moved on to be VTubers since they can portray different personalities as well. The most popular sites right now for live streaming are YouTube, Twitch, Niconico, Bilibili, and social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Tiktok and Instagram (through their Instagram Live feature). Other independent sites are available too.
Top Live Streaming Apps In Japan
Though live streaming has become popular around the world, what’s popular in other markets doesn’t always apply to Japan. There are select live streaming apps that have dominated the Japanese market.
For example, BIGO LIVE, a global live streaming app from Singapore, covers various genres such as music, dance, and games, and allows you to organize a multi-live room with up to 12 people.
Separately, Pococha is a domestic live streaming app catered to the Japanese market. The app has an easy-to-use interface and chat feature where followers can send likes, comments and emojis to their favourite host. It also includes other features such as seminars on learning live-streaming skills, lectures from expert streamers and round-table discussions. According to a news release by the company, by March 2021 the platform accumulated over 2.5 million downloads and generated over $250 million in revenue. They launched the service in 2017.
Other popular apps include Taiwan’s live streaming app 17 LIVE – which is especially popular in Japan as one of the country’s largest live content distribution platforms – and Mirrativ, which uniquely allows you to stream your content directly to viewers on both Twitch and YouTube simultaneously. Showroom is also one of Japan’s most popular live streaming apps where users can easily discover other streamers while interacting with them through live comments.
LINE LIVE, also commonly used by celebrities, stands out from the competition by allowing users to make their own live broadcast using face stickers and fancy filters. Hakuna Live is an app from South Korea, where users can live stream their favourite K-POP idols. Lastly, there is REALITY, which also allows fans to send free or paid animations and gifts. REALITY does not limit you to just view content and comment as a fan: you can create your own avatar as well. Well-known VTubers from Hololive and Nijisanji such as Tsukino Mito, Tokino Sora, Liz and Lita from KMNZ, and Super Sonico, are active on the app as well.
Interested to learn how anime is used in Japanese advertising? Read our article covering 4 impactful examples.
ASMR – A Popular Japanese Streaming Genre
More recently, the YouTube ASMR community has also started streaming ASMR content live. While many have stayed on the platform, a large number have also joined Twitch and TikTok.
ASMR stands for Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response. It’s the physical response, the sensation you feel, when you hear particular sounds. The effects of ASMR include the tingly feeling down your spine when you hear a unique sound such as the crinkling of a bag, someone typing on a keyboard, or nails on a chalkboard. To stream ASMR on Twitch you need three things: A camera, your prop for making sound, and a good ASMR microphone, which is the most important equipment for quality streaming.
While ASMR has been around and popular in the market since 2010, the shift to Twitch means ASMR content creators are finding value in producing their videos and sharing them in real time.
Twitch is an American platform service that focuses on video game live streaming, mainly known for its broadcasts of esports competitions. Though, other sorts of live streams have become popular on the platform such as music broadcasts, creative content, and personal IRL streams. Twitch is operated by Twitch Interactive, a subsidiary of Amazon.com, Inc.. Twitch has become so popular over the years that independent tracking sites for live streaming analytics and statistics have been created.
Many Twitch streamers specialize in a genre and those that have built a note-worthy following can become Twitch Ambassadors. Twitch Ambassadors are high-profile, highly engaged streamers that serve as role models, champions and thought leaders of Twitch, establishing new content genres, and sharing inspirational stories that empower. Two levels other than Ambassadors are Affiliates and Partners. Twitch affiliates and partners can both earn revenue through subscription fees, advertisements, paid sponsorships and game commerce.
The difference between the two comes in the requirements for them and the benefits they offer. Twitch Partners require a larger audience with high engagement compared to Affiliates. Twitch Partnership allows streamers access to more tools to help them grow their audiences, making it more desirable.
You can browse live streaming content based on games, IRL content (such as podcasts, talk shows and open chats), music, esports, creative art content, category tags such as “Japan”, language-specific content or by live channels in-real time.
Although originally a place of community, Twitch is ultimately a for-profit business platform so the competition has become quite cut throat, but remains a great way to reach Japanese audiences, especially the younger demographic.
In terms of what makes live streamers successful, it comes down to three things: networking, skill and personality. There is a social ladder of streamers and being able to know the right people – interacting in the right streams and growing your network is key. The “higher” your streaming status becomes, the more people watch you, which equates to more ad revenue and sponsorships.
The bigger and more famous your friend circle becomes, the more your content gets watched. Additionally, some people have magnetic personalities but may not be the best at the content they are streaming. Some may not have the most engaging voice but are masters at their games. Ultimately, viewers want to be entertained, and you have to find what makes you a good entertainer.
There’s no denying that the VTubing market has made an impact in the live streaming industry. It has brought in more anime fans towards gaming, and platforms such as Twitch, which has increased advertisement opportunities for streamers. VTubing has created a niche market that is both marketable and lucrative, in the same way celebrity marketing has been effective.
So whether you are entering the Japanese market as a direct competitor, or are looking for marketing opportunities to reach Japanese audiences, working in the VTubing space can be an effective way to localize for the Japanese market. Integrating these insights into marketing services is what Tokyoesque does best. Contact Tokyoesque to learn more.
Alternatively, feel free to get in touch and see how we can help you develop your offering in the Japanese market.