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VTubers are making millions on YouTube and Twitch

It was the world’s largest gathering of internet celebrities. As I waited to meet Twitch streamer Code Miko in a hotel lobby at VidCon, I spotted an…



It was the world’s largest gathering of internet celebrities. As I waited to meet Twitch streamer Code Miko in a hotel lobby at VidCon, I spotted an Instagram-famous husky, a fan favorite contestant from Netflix’s “The Circle,” and a controversial beauty blogger. But when a fashionable Korean American woman approached me, I realized I was half expecting to see a 3D, hyperrealistic animation in front of me, rather than a real human. Maybe it was the near-hallucinatory exhaustion from day three of a massive online video convention, but unlike so many of the social media stars in the echoing hotel entrance hall, VTubers like Code Miko are sometimes unrecognizable in person.

A movement originating in Japan, “VTuber” means “virtual YouTuber,” but the culture is also prevalent on other streaming sites like Twitch, where Code Miko has almost a million followers. To build their virtual personas, streamers use motion-capture (or even just AR face-tracking) technology to embody a virtual avatar and weave a backstory and mythos around the character.

“I thought it would be really fun to be another character,” the streamer told TechCrunch. “I just felt like I had this vision. I wanted to take control of a virtual character and have the audience be able to interact with her live on stream. I’m a big fan of ‘Ready Player One,’ so when I felt like I could make a tiny percent of it, I was really excited.”

The Code Miko character, for instance, is an NPC (non-playable character) who dreams of starring in a major video game, but she’s too glitchy, so she’s resorted to streaming instead. Fans call the actual human behind the avatar “the Technician,” but her first name is Yuna. Since Yuna was a VR animator before she was laid off in the pandemic and created Code Miko — which is now her full-time job — her avatar is far more realistic than most VTubers. Also, most VTubers would never dare meet a journalist in person, let alone show their face on stream. But Yuna sometimes shows her face to offer viewers a behind-the-scenes peek at her mocap technology.

VTuber avatars usually resemble anime characters, since the genre first emerged in Japan. Fans disagree about who the first VTuber was — some say that the culture was sparked by Hatsune Miku, the avatar of a Vocaloid music production software who has opened for Lady Gaga, appeared on David Letterman, and performs live for stadium-sized audiences. Others credit Kizuna AI, a project of Japanese tech company Activ8, who started her channel in 2016 and coined the term “VTuber.”

Kizuna AI’s popularity birthed a new generation of online stars in Japan. Unlike Japanese idol culture, which holds its real-world celebrities to impossibly high standards, VTubers are more free to be themselves, even though they’re performing as a virtual character.

“They exist in this space between anime character and real person,” said anime YouTuber Gigguk in a video. “But they can explore original ideas or get away with things that other people can’t who exist in the same space.”

VTubers thrived for years in Japan, but the genre turned heads around the world during the pandemic. As much of the world entered lockdown, the massively popular VTuber agency HoloLive launched its English-language division, courting a new audience of Western viewers.

The plan didn’t just work. It changed the landscape of streaming forever.

In just two years, HoloLive English’s most popular VTuber Gawr Gura has amassed over 4 million YouTube subscribers. The white-haired anime girl wears an oversized, blue shark hoodie, her face framed by the hoodie’s shark teeth. Of course, her bright blue eyes are the same color as the highlights in her hair, and when she smiles, her adorable shark-like teeth peek out. She’s a musical artist, as many VTubers are, and she streams games like Minecraft, Mario Kart and even Japanese Duolingo. According to her channel description, she is “a descendant of the Lost City of Atlantis, who swam to Earth while saying, ‘It’s so boring down there LOLOLOL!'”

At the same time, HoloLive also introduced talent like Mori Calliope (2 million subscribers), who claims to be “the Grim Reaper’s first apprentice” and became a VTuber to “collect souls” from her viewers. Calliope is a red-eyed rebel, adorning her pastel pink hair with a black crown and veil.

We can’t confirm the progress of her soul-harvesting, but when it comes to money, Calliope is certainly succeeding. According to Playboard, an independent YouTube analytics site, Calliope earned $854,595 in 2021 just from superchats (a YouTube livestream monetization feature), making her the seventh-most superchatted YouTuber in the world.

Who were the six streamers who out-earned Calliope’s superchats? Also VTubers, of course.

Why become a VTuber anyway?

It’s rare for a VTuber to reveal their human body like Code Miko — for many of these streamers, the anonymity is the whole point.

You don’t have to sign to a major agency like HoloLive to become a VTuber. Though Code Miko’s technology is ultra-advanced and puts Mark Zuckerberg’s metaverse to shame, it’s not the norm. With only an iPhone, a new streamer can create a face-tracked, 2D virtual persona.

Now, there’s a growing community of trans VTubers, some of whom say that adopting an avatar has helped them navigate gender dysphoria. Unlike the TikTok side of social media, where showing your face is almost non-negotiable, VTubers can show another side of themselves screen. VTuber Ironmouse, for example, is the most-subscribed female streamer on Twitch. But in real life, the Puerto Rican gamer is chronically ill and sometimes bed-ridden, so VTubing helps her have fun and socialize, especially when isolating from the coronavirus.

For some streamers, these avatars are also barriers against harassment.

“I don’t get the same amount of bad treatment online as my female coworkers do,” Yuna told TechCrunch. “It’s harder to troll somebody that’s a cartoon.”

Then again, in a recent stream where she showed off her state-of-the-art mocap suit, she called out a viewer for commenting that her technology was “the future of porn.” While some VTubers do get a bit racy — it is the internet, after all — there’s more to these digital personas than sex appeal.

“I think for people who watch VTubers, a lot of them don’t even care about who is behind the avatar, who is the voice actor,” explained Zhicong Lu, an assistant professor at the City University of Hong Kong who has studied VTubers. “It’s more about the persona, the avatar, and they know very little about the real life of that voice actor.”

Anonymity creates its own set of new challenges, though.

“Especially for VTubers run by companies, the voice actors may be replaced, and their labor may be exploited,” Lu said. Many of the most popular VTubers are created or managed by agencies like HoloLive, Nijisanji and VShojo. VTubers have distinct personalities informed by their voice actors, but it’s possible for agencies to bring on a new voice actor without fans noticing. Plus, it’s not public knowledge what the percentage of pay the talent gets from the agency.

“The tricky thing is, people actually cannot see anything,” Lu told TechCrunch. “It’s totally opaque. It’s not transparent, because of the avatar.”

Of course, corporations want to cash in

In mid-August, a VTuber of Tony the Tiger made his streaming debut as part of a partnership with Twitch. Yes, that Tony the Tiger, the Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes mascot who has appeared on cereal boxes since 1952.

A marketing and VTubing expert, Teddy Cambosa told TechCrunch that brands like Netflix, SEGA and AirAsia have used VTubers in their marketing. But activating the massive fanbase around VTubers isn’t so easy as simply participating.

“Brands need to better understand that tapping into the VTuber space need to understand that the demographic is not just for the short-term period,” Cambosa said. “Once they understand the culture and behavior of these fans, they can tap into the fan’s loyalty in order to acquire them as potential customers and retain them in the longer run.”

Tony the Tiger’s VTuber debut was awkward. The mascot did not actually play “Fall Guys” along with the four IRL streamers who joined him, and he left the stream for long stretches of time, prompting thousands of viewers to demand Tony’s return in the Twitch chat. He made up for his absence a little bit, though — Tony the Tiger told his 13,000 viewers that they are his “pog champs.”

Beyond the VTuber space, brands like Pacsun and Calvin Klein have partnered with Lil Miquela, a completely fictional Instagram influencer who is operated by a venture-backed company called Brud. But these advertising campaigns are often met with backlash — why not partner with a real, non-CGI woman to model these clothes? Social media is already criticized for harming teen girls, in part by promoting unrealistic beauty standards. But no beauty standard is as unrealistic as a virtual ideal of a female body.

Tony the Tiger and Lil Miquela have the technology and the financial backing to be technically impressive and well-marketed, but VTubers have to be authentic to connect with fans. Even for VTubers who only connect with audiences through their avatars, the phenomenon is ultimately about the human connection. After all, there’s still a real human behind those big anime eyes — even if you’ll never see their face.

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License Plates Could Be Printed On McDonald’s Bags To Stop Littering

License Plates Could Be Printed On McDonald’s Bags To Stop Littering

There’s been talk about McDonald’s in southwest Great Britain could print…



License Plates Could Be Printed On McDonald's Bags To Stop Littering

There's been talk about McDonald's in southwest Great Britain could print car license plates on drive-thru bags to prevent customers from littering. 

"It's not clear exactly how the number plate would be printed on packaging, but it could be scanned onto the brown bags that contain the food," Daily Mail noted. 

Chris Howell, Swansea Council's head of waste, parks and cleansing, told a climate change corporate delivery committee meeting: 

"The Welsh Government has explored with McDonald's, or their franchises, whether or not they could print number plates of cars collecting takeaways from their drive-throughs with a view that that would discourage people from discarding their materials (litter)."

Howell said one of the biggest hurdles with fast-food companies is that if one chain adopts the climate initiative, customers will go to competitors that don't print license plates on bags. 

"If McDonald's do it, then people will just go to Burger King instead of McDonald's, because nobody wants to have their private details printed on that packaging." He added: "I think it's a really good idea but at the minute it's fraught with some difficulties." 

The nationalist political party in Wales, Plaid Cymru, first proposed the idea more than two years ago during the pandemic lockdown when party leaders noticed a spike in fast-food trash along city streets and highways. 

Welsh Government spokesperson told MailOnline:

"There are no current plans to introduce a requirement for drive-through restaurants to add vehicle registration details to fast food drive-through packaging.

"We are continuing to support Keep Wales Tidy with other initiatives to tackle roadside litter including their No Regrets campaign and their Adopt a Highway initiative."

Now 'the cat is out of the bag'. It's only a matter of time before governments start forcing fast-food companies to print license plate numbers on drive-thru bags. The dangers of this could be more surveillance, and who knows what corporations would do with license plate data if such a system were implemented. 

Tyler Durden Sat, 11/26/2022 - 18:00

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COVID Lockdown Protests Erupt In Beijing, Xinjiang After Deadly Fire

COVID Lockdown Protests Erupt In Beijing, Xinjiang After Deadly Fire

Protests have erupted in Beijing and the far western Xinjiang region…



COVID Lockdown Protests Erupt In Beijing, Xinjiang After Deadly Fire

Protests have erupted in Beijing and the far western Xinjiang region over COVID-19 lockdowns and a deadly fire on Thursday in a high-rise building in Urumqi that killed 10 people (with some reports putting the number as high as 40).

Crowds took to the street in Urumqi, the capitol of Xinjiang, with protesters chanting "End the lockdown!" while pumping their fists in the air, following the circulation of videos of the fire on Chinese social media on Friday night.

Protest videos show people in a plaza singing China's national anthem - particularly the line: "Rise up, those who refuse to be slaves!" Others shouted that they did not want lockdowns. In the northern Beijing district of Tiantongyuan, residents tore down signs and took to the streets.

Reuters verified that the footage was published from Urumqi, where many of its 4 million residents have been under some of the country's longest lockdowns, barred from leaving their homes for as long as 100 days.

In the capital of Beijing 2,700 km (1,678 miles) away, some residents under lockdown staged small-scale protests or confronted their local officials over movement restrictions placed on them, with some successfully pressuring them into lifting them ahead of a schedule. -Reuters

According to an early Saturday news conference by Urumqi officials, COVID measures did not hamper escape and rescue during the fire, but Chinese social media wasn't buying it.

"The Urumqi fire got everyone in the country upset," said Beijing resident Sean Li.

According to Reuters

A planned lockdown for his compound "Berlin Aiyue" was called off on Friday after residents protested to their local leader and convinced him to cancel it, negotiations that were captured by a video posted on social media.

The residents had caught wind of the plan after seeing workers putting barriers on their gates. "That tragedy could have happened to any of us," he said.

By Saturday evening, at least ten other compounds lifted lockdown before the announced end-date after residents complained, according to a Reuters tally of social media posts by residents.

Tyler Durden Sat, 11/26/2022 - 12:00

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The Doctor Who Can Rebuild Trust: Joseph Ladapo

The Doctor Who Can Rebuild Trust: Joseph Ladapo

Authored by Jeffrey Tucker via The Brownstone Institute,

If you are like me, you are exhausted…



The Doctor Who Can Rebuild Trust: Joseph Ladapo

Authored by Jeffrey Tucker via The Brownstone Institute,

If you are like me, you are exhausted of the lies. Every day seems to bring new revelations about how our lives came to be upended. The connections are becoming clearer between the pandemic response and the growing economic crisis, the ballooning debt, the growth of the surveillance state, the corruption and scams, chilling absence of integrity in public life, and, with the failure of FTX, the way in which an outright financial scam was integral to the calamity. 

While we await new revelations, depositions, coverups, pleas for amnesty, and bad economic news, whom can we trust? Is anyone telling the truth? 

Today was Anthony Fauci’s last White House press conference, and he spoke as if life is all normal and everything is fine. It’s as if the whole disaster never happened. He never locked anyone down, he says. He has happy for any investigations, he says, because he has nothing to hide. And then he ended with a final push for everyone to get booster #5 or whatever number we are on. 

It’s like we live in two universes: our own lives in which we read true things in some places, and official life, in which shills and publicists keep repeating the same nonsense over and over without flinching or providing anything like an honest account of these last three years. 

Perhaps for this reason – and also because by any historical standard this is a tremendous autobiography – reading Dr. Joseph Ladapo’s Transcend Fear is a welcome relief from the nonsense of our times. It is brutally honest. It is emotionally affecting. It is careful and precise but also deeply radical in its observations. If what’s called the “public health world” has lost touch with both the public and health, this book provides a path to restoring it. In short, it is a beautiful and inspiring experience. 

Dr. Ladapo is the Surgeon General of the State of Florida, picked by Governor Ron DeSantis to forge and explain the state’s health decisions and priorities to the public in the midst of a grave crisis. He has faced down the national press time and time again with Zen-like wisdom. He seems emotionally unflappable while also sticking to the science as he understands it. He is the only public health official in the country who has been upfront about the limits of the vaccines and warned healthy young people that they don’t need them. 

What we learn from this book is that he has been a warrior against pseudoscience from the very beginning of this pandemic and the government response. After the lockdowns, most scientists and health professionals fell silent, fearing reputational and financial loss. Dr. Ladapo was different, On March 24, 2020, still within the window of “15 Days to Flatten the Curve,” he wrote in USA Today:

We are fretting and we are fuming. As a country, we have been caught miserably flat-footed after receiving warnings about what lay ahead when cases of Covid-19 began exploding in Wuhan, China. Messages from local and state leaders about how to respond to the pandemic change almost daily—a sure sign they have no idea what they are doing. Shutdowns are happening here in California and in New York, and will probably spread to the rest of the nation….

Here’s the problem: Because of the (understandable) fear and hysteria of the moment, few US leaders are seriously talking about the endgame. The epidemiologic models I’ve seen indicate that the shutdowns and school closures will temporarily slow the virus’ spread, but when they’re lifted, we will essentially emerge right back where we started. And, by the way, no matter what, our hospitals will still be overwhelmed. There has already been too much community spread to prevent this inevitability. 

We don’t have a totalitarian government like China, and we value our civil liberties too much to take the measures (i.e., total lockdown) that would be needed to rapidly decrease the infection rate to zero. This means that, even with shutdowns, the virus will still spread. Unfortunately, this also means that rates of “community immunity,” often referred to as “herd immunity,” will slow. As a result, we will always be vulnerable to the virus spreading rapidly again as soon as shutdown measures are lifted, unless they are immediately reimplemented—over and over and over again.

Was he the first post-lockdown voice from public health profoundly to object in a public forum of this magnitude? Perhaps so. Consider the bravery and presence of mind it required to write those sentences. The entire country was on a wartime footing with unprecedented horribles taking place. The media was screaming “Run for your lives” but most of us weren’t even allowed out of our homes to do that. 

These were utterly crazy times. The whole world was going bonkers. And yet this man kept his cool. 

This book explains where his cool comes from. You see, he is the son of an immigrant from Nigeria, born 1979. A math and science whiz, he attended Wake Forest and then entered Harvard Medical School. While he was involved in his studies, he noted the existence of the Kennedy School of Government and enrolled there too. On graduation day, he was granted a MD plus a PhD in public policy. So essentially: the highest credentials in two fields that this country offers. He became professor of medicine at New York University and then the University of California, Los Angeles. 

The trouble was that none of his training had prepared him to deal with medical issues closer to home, namely his wife’s unrelenting migraines that often landed her in the hospital and his own underlying psychological fears of social interaction. The details are very painful and told in this book with disarming detail. Long story short: his search for answers led him toward alternative medical paths that eventually fixed both issues, and burned a lesson in his mind. Health is individual, and the right path is not the same for everyone and not always found in expertise as codified in the textbooks and institutions. 

It was soon after these difficult times that the pandemic broke and, along with it, the claims that the experts had all the answers in lockdowns and eventual universal mandates for vaccination. 

Dr. Ladapo had meanwhile developed the self-confidence to speak about such matters truthfully and fearlessly. And he never stopped. He wrote for every venue he could, month after month, urging an end to the lockdowns, a focus on therapeutics, attention to the science we had, and genuine concern for the health of actual individuals, who are not lab rats but people with human rights and freedom. 

Even though Dr. Joseph Ladapo is obviously a hero (and one for the ages, so far as I’m concerned), the prose here is remarkably lucid, humble, and precise. That’s why I say that the humane concern in this book is an inspiration. Moreover, reading it is a form of therapy because he connects with a common sense that we all had in 2019 before the world descended into utter madness. 

What’s more, this book shows a path forward not only for public health but for all of us as individuals. He urges personal reflection as the first step in recovery, overcoming whatever hidden fears we had that caused too many among us to go along with the preposterous parade of dangerous nonsense that controlled our lives for so long. 

In my own view, this book is a classic of our times. Its value added is not only the author’s credentials, though he has them galore, or even how it speaks so directly to issues that have profoundly affected all our lives. Its real value is as a model of autobiography that offers lessons for all of us without exception. 

We at Brownstone are deeply honored that Dr. Ladapo will be our dinner speaker at our annual conference and gala in Miami, December 3, 2022. There is still time to attend. You can register here

I write as Dr. Fauci just finished his last press conference without offering so much as a hint of apology for what has happened. Meanwhile, I’m sure Dr. Ladapo is tending to his work in Florida where he has been charged with dealing with public health policy with honesty, truth, and wisdom. I know who gets my vote for hero of the pandemic. 

Tyler Durden Fri, 11/25/2022 - 16:00

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