Influencers Get Virtual

Virtual influencers started to get noticed on the North American viral marketing buzz scene in 2017 with the large Instagram following of Lil Miquela from the creative studio, Brud.

These virtual characters have their roots in Asia, which go back to the 2000’s. Virtual idols are computer animated celebrity singers.

The world’s most popular virtual idol is Hatsuni Miku from Japan. She was created in 2007 by the Hokkaido-based software company, Crypton Future Media, to sell their music software. She has gone on to be a brand ambassador for companies such as Toyota and Google and has performed in live venues around the world. She is booked to perform at the Coachella Music Festival in 2020.

The success of Hatsuni Miku did not go unnoticed in China. Shanghai HENIAN Technology created a similar virtual idol in 2012, Lou Tianyi, who became the top Mandarin music virtual idol. She was recently a brand ambassador for Procter & Gamble. She appeared in an AR performance to promote its feminie hygiene brand, Whisper, for the world’s biggest shopping holiday, Alibaba’s Double 11 day.

Fast forward to 2018 where the LA-based Riot Games, debut their virtual idol act, K/DA , at their Worlds event. The global audience of nearly 100 million viewers was larger than the Super Bowl. The K/DA “Pop Stars” music video has over 300 million views on YouTube as of this writing. “Pop Stars” single rose to #1 on Billboard’s World Digital Sales chart.

Another gaming studio, Epic Games, jumped on this trend in 2019 with a live in-game concert using the virtual likeness of EDM artist, Marshmello. He performed a virtual concert in its franchise game, Fortnite, to an audience of 10 million. This groundbreaking event demonstrated the potential of massively online virtual concerts and its associated merchandise.

In an article published by RADII, Raymond Zhang, Strategy SVP at Mogu, a Hangzhou-based fashion ecommerce platform explains why he likes virtual influencers, “The rewards are obvious. Virtual [influencers] can work nonstop, They don’t have any real ‘people’ problems, they can just be selling products and working 24/7”. It can be elaborated even further why virtual idols appeal to companies and governments as influencers is because they don’t carry the risks of drug and alcohol dependencies, public misbehavior, egos, or irrational desires to be loved by everyone.

Large companies have started paying attention to this trend and are getting onboard. iQIYI (market cap, $12.5B NASDAQ), the Netflix-style video platform spun out from the search giant Baidu, created their own virtual idol group, RiCH BOOM. They even went as far to discuss RiCH BOOM in their 2019 Q2 Earnings Call. For iQIYI, virtual idols represent a two-fold opportunity. The first is self-produced programming which has higher brand ad revenues than conventional licensed programming. The second is co-branding opportunities which iQIYI did with Tsingtao Brewery and RiCH BOOM.

Mediatech Ventures’ Collective incubator first cohort class featured a startup working in the virtual idol space. The startup is founded by a pair of veteran music industry entrepreneurs, Rob Campanell (Austin) and Ed Yen (Taipei). It intersects virtual fashion with virtual idols and social gaming.

Virtual influencers have been rising globally for over a decade. Audiences are spending money to see them “in-person.” Brands are signing them to endorsement deals. We can expect to see more virtual influencers start to take center stage and make their mark in the near future.

The Inaugural MediaTech Collective

Earlier this year, Serenity Gibbons, for Entrepreneur, penned a wonderfully straightforward look at why startups should look to Accelerators.  It was the sub-headline that caught my attention most, “thrive with a little help from your friends.”

Innovation Together
  1. Comprehensive support
  2. A full roster of activities
  3. Investor access
  4. Accelerated knowledge
  5. A gateway to future customers
  6. Skills development
  7. Risk management
  8. A bigger-picture, long-term view
  9. A springboard
  10. An accelerator for everyone
  11. Motivation and morale
  12. Continued support long after the program ends

Spot on.  

Purposeful, well developed, and intentional startup programs are incredible resources for founders, and as we looked to our own passion and experience in MediaTech Ventures, we wanted to identify how we can serve entrepreneurs, investors, and Accelerators.

Yes, serve Accelerators.  

There is a seed to entrepreneurship; a catalyst which enables our economy to create opportunity, innovation, and jobs.   That seed is in shared knowledge and access – the means to take the risks involved in starting something.

Two Decades Ago

From AOL’s keyword to Yahoo’s directory and acquisition of Broadcast.com, and then from Google’s search engine to Facebook’s social network, the early innovations of the internet changed everything about how we work, and gave rise to Apple’s iTunes, Spotify, YouTube, Instagram, iTunes, Amazon’s Fire and Alexa technologies and more.

In that revolution, our media industry has been wrestling with change and the rapid pace of disruption.  Most significantly, too many music, film, advertising, news, and other media professionals have been left to struggle with how things work today – how to thrive as a working professional and how to succeed as an entrepreneur.

That was our sweet spot.

In looking to how to serve our friends at WMG BoostCapital Records and gBETAGener8torComcast NBCUniversal’s LIFT Labs with Techstars and Techstars MusicAbbey Road Red2112Wallifornia MusicTechSXSW Pitch, and other inflection points for media entrepreneurs, it became clear that our work, our specialty, with startups and venture capital, was in incubating founders and ideas to become enduring companies.

With the incredible support of Austin’s Impact Hub, and their Workforce Development Accelerator, in 2018, our Collective media incubator was born and this month, our cohort graduates.

Why Start in Austin?

Have you noticed how substantially Google, Facebook, and Apple have grown in this part of the world?  With all the talk of startups and technology moving to Texas, we couldn’t help but uncover that the great majority of migration (of both people and capital) is in media.

Understandably so, over the decades, Austin’s Live Music Capital has evolved to being more of a Creative Technology Capital, as filmmakers and musicians alike collaborate with the brilliant engineers and architects calling Austin home.

And it was in this convergence of ideas, resources, specialized mentors, and companies, that we realized the best we can do for startups is take that idea of incubation and acceleration and specialize it: focus everything on the media industry and media innovation so that those benefits Serenity mentioned would be even more substantially available: more comprehensive support, relevant investor access, domain specific knowledge, and continued support for the entirety of our careers in media.

Thanks to a tremendous collaboration with Johnny Kelly and Work Well Coworking East Austin, and the operating support of Austin Larson and Northshore Media Productions’ Kevin Chin and Keith Chen, the curriculum, teachers, and program to develop the future of our media industry is live, through Austin, Texas.

Collective Media Innovation

May 30th, with our friends at Impact Hub, our first cohort of incubated MediaTech startups will share the stage with Hugh Forrest, CPO SXSW, Suzanne Malone, Founder Strategies for Small Business, Brendon Anthony, Director of the Texas Music Office, and our guests in venture capital, to introduce what they’ve set out to accomplish.

JonesSpross

With the incredible support and experience of Imaginnovate and Jones & Spross, as well as teachers including (ready for this? …) Ricky Holm, Founder Chocolate Milk & DonutsErin Reilly, Director of Innovation & Entrepreneurship at UT Moody College of CommunicationsElijah May, Founder The Experience FirmNaji Kelley, Founder BLNDED MediaBen Faubian, Creative/Art Director Reactive CanvasGavin Gillas, Managing Partner YGC CapitalKory Jones, CoFounder ReillyWorksChris Turnley, VP Retail UFCU,  Elijah Whites, CoFounder Serving SocialCorey Butler, Founder Author.io, Kristine Bryant, Founder Gladiator Consulting, Frank CoppersmithMike Svatek of Rivet Works, CEO Smarter RealityNathan Ryan, CEO Blue Sky PartnersTed Cohen, Head of Corp Dev MediaTech Ventures, Cara McCarty, CoFounder Code PilotAndy Hart, COO MediaTech Ventures, Austin Kueffner, CoFounder Alice DesignElise Krentzel of Nomad Sound, Erin Moore, Executive Director Human Capital SolutionsMoby (Not that Moby), Founder The Fire ShowAlik Mock, Founder GenwiseRob Schmidt, CoFounder Alice DesignEthan Parker, Founder/CEO TrebleMike Erwin, Founder/GP Ecliptic Capital, and Aaron Perman, VP S3 Ventures ……… we’re excited to introduce…

  • Blended Sense, a creative intelligence technology and SaaS product for content production and management. Blended Sense creates digital experiences that connect those who need consistent, quality, content to those who make it locally.  Founded by Abigail Rose and Albert Baez, the team’s combined expertise in tech for local business and the creative arts and production industries (TV/Film/Performance) revealed a major opportunity to transform the space and bring new value to the creative economy.
  • Jeremy Rashad Brown has a mission to provide a viable platform for underrepresented and marginalized artists to authentically tell their stories through various artistic mediums; Brown Boy Productions is live to do just that, primarily through film and streaming content.
  • EEVET customers feel the pain of an empty venue which is caused by a lack of access to diverse talent. Founded by Ben Hodge and Thomas Schneider in San Antonio, they were involved in Nashville’s Project Music incubator and when Nicholas Ramos joined the team, they made their time to Austin to join us. Providing an AI that puts artists in direct contact with booking managers, while holding payments for events in escrow, they’re set about helping artists get paid.
  • Flash Data Transfer is invested in a GUI to make their OEM licensing of technology from Transfersoft, a high speed data transfer protocol, easier to use.  Founded by Thomas Sahs, their solution is 10X faster and 10X cheaper than what’s currently on the market; delivering a secure, high speed large file data technology in demand in entertainment, oil and gas, medical, storage, and video games.
  • Front 7 Rush is a sports media company founded in Houston and Austin, TX by Vince Ingram and Bijan Kelley, with Candice Landry. The company engages the armchair expert via a podcast, online community, and several novel defense-focused fantasy football games with an emphasis in the platform on “All Defense, All the Time!” The launch of our first game, Total Defense, garnered the attention and encouragement of the Fantasy Sports Trade Association.
  • Rob Campanell started his media career as a television producer in the early 90s and in 1994, he relocated to Austin to produce “Cyberia” at the University of Texas. The UT student and community television station was just to starting stream its channel over the internet using a video conference technology called CU-SeeMewhich was developed at Cornell University. The combination of VR and video streaming was an exciting vision for the future of media. That vision is in Virtual Idols, a production studio oriented at closing the cultural and language gaps between the United States and Asia by enabling in the U.S. the augmented reality character development so prevalent overseas.

As part of the program, we were also host to what Brandon Thurman, through ROOG, has been building through the University of Texas’ MSTC program for entrepreneurs, as we explored how what we’re doing can apply directly to University programs and media and communication colleges and students.

Join us in Austin, the evening of May 30th, as we bring these companies to life and look to serving more entrepreneurs, investors, and Accelerators throughout the world.

Collective is rolling out to other cities now.  If you’re interested in joining us as a Director, as a teacher, in sponsoring your local community, or as a founder where you live, let’s talk.