Virtual idols could be the next big hosts of live commerce
Published: May 11, 2020 04:36 PM

Chinese virtual idol Luo Tianyi Photo: IC

As live commerce - a combination of livestreaming and e-commerce - becomes increasingly popular in China, it is also giving fame to some of the country's most influential online streaming celebrities and attracting more. However, trends have shown that the next big livestream hosts in China might not be human, but virtual idols. 

On April 20, Luo Tianyi, a virtual singer developed by a technology company based in Shanghai who has almost 4.6 million followers on Weibo, became co-host of a livestreaming campaign alongside one of China's most influential and money-generating television hosts, Li Jiaqi. 

Although the livestreaming event received mixed reviews from customers due to unexpected technical issues, the attention it drew led to a second show hosted by Luo Tianyi on May 1, which generated almost 3 million viewers at its peak. 

"The fact that even virtual hosts are receiving such attention underscores the sheer scale of the fandom economy," Liu Dingding, a Beijing-based veteran industry observer, told the Global Times on Monday. 

"It is catering to a much younger group who are likely to spend based on what their idols like or represent, rather than the exact quality of the products."

The economy of idols, including virtual ones, is massive among the "Z generation" in China, roughly defined as people born between the mid 1990s and the early the 2010s. According to research by QuestMobile, a market research company based in Beijing, over 40 billion yuan ($5.65 billion) was spent on idols in 2018, and in 2020, around 390 million people are following or about to follow virtual idols. 

It has also been reported that the virtual idols are becoming some of the most expensive hosts for livestream promotions on e-commerce platform According to a report from, fees for Luo Tianyi to host the promotion amounted to 900,000 yuan, far higher than the already expensive human host Luo Yonghao at 600,000 yuan. 

"Based on the fandom that the virtual idols have already accumulated, their business model can work as long as the products are of decent quality," Liu said. 

However, for some consumers, including followers of the virtual idols, it might take a while before they dive into spending on the products promoted by virtual idols. 

Deng Xinyue, a keen follower of Hatsune Miku, a virtual Japanese singer similar to Luo Tianyi, told the Global Times that she is doubtful as to how far the virtual hosts can go.

"I watch livestream shopping promotions because I trust that whoever is endorsing the product has used it themselves," Deng said. "Yes, I spend a lot on virtual idols, but mostly on merchandise directly related to the idols, not some random eye creams they can never use on themselves."