China’s celebrity influencers Viya and Li Jiaqi — alias Austin Li, the “lipstick king” — used to attract millions of shoppers to ecommerce platforms, but scandals and their subsequent disappearances exposed the risks of crossing the Chinese Communist party.
Enter the virtual idols. Computer-generated avatars are considered a safer option by companies as Beijing cracks down on human celebrities deemed politically outspoken or with questionable morals.
Over the past year, Chinese investment and tech groups, including Ten-cent and ByteDance, have ploughed hundreds of millions of dollars into companies that develop digital influencers. China’s virtual idol industry is predicted to jump sevenfold from Rmb6.2bn ($870mn) in 2021 to Rmb48bn in 2025, according to Guangzhou-based iiMedia Research.Financial Times, 13 October 2022