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[Anime Key Player Interview #13]
Takeshi Osaka, CEO and Founder of Activ8 Inc.Part.2


Next, I would like to ask about yourself. First, could you tell us about the type of business Activ8 does?

Activ8 was founded in 2016 and mainly does virtual talent business. We are also involved in the development of virtual talents, the creation of their content, the development of technology for creating content, and the operation of a motion capture system and a recording studio. Virtual talents who have started to achieve a certain level of success are also valuable as influencers, so we are also involved in influencer marketing. We also provide support in the casting of events and programs. Also, even though the virtual talent industry has grown considerably, it is still in its early stages. Talents who are not (virtual) streamers, in particular, have high operating costs. We also run "upd8," a network that supports the activities of those virtual talents, such as individual creators with the abilities or creators who both work and create virtual talents.

We’d love to hear about upd8 later. It seems that you started Activ8 after having done various jobs. Could you tell us more about your career?

I have experience mainly in business development and corporate planning in venture companies. I have always wanted to start my own business since I graduated from school, and the shortest route I came up with was gaining experience from venture companies such as web media companies and multilingual support companies. Just before starting my own business, I was in charge of the Japanese branch of a CG studio for a game whose company is based in Los Angeles.

Running Activ8 as its President, are there things in particular that you consciously think of or take effort to do on a daily basis?

To enjoy entertainment naturally in life. I made it a point to be natural. After all, if I think as a creator or a businessman, I think my views will be different from what the general public thinks, so I go out there to try and see from the point of view of the general public and whether it seems like I can enjoy it naturally in my own way. It is the same for events, movies, music, and so on; I make an effort to not think about business and enjoy these things naturally.

So you are making an effort to expose yourself to many types of entertainment?

That's right. I go to many events on purpose. I do my best to go to new events and things that are said to be interesting.

Do you usually listen to music?

I think I listen to music the same way an average person does, listening to music while working and so on. I often go to many music events.

I’d like to do a more in-depth discussion about virtual YouTubers. First of all, could you tell us about the virtual talents that your company produces, the process it took from conceptualization to actual production?

First of all, we put a lot of emphasis on whether it will be successful as a business. We emphasize whether it is sustainable or not, whether the ROI (return on investment) is worth it or not, whether it is scalable in terms of business or not, and how it will lead to monetization. Of course, we also consider the needs of the market, but the second most important thing after the business side is "What can be done with this content that cannot be done with another?" and "Why should we do this?". It's also very important to know if it's a project that one can get excited about and get hooked on. At first, I said business is important, but you can't create content without that vision in running the business. On the other hand, if the business model is good, there will be more possibilities and opportunities for creators to create more freely and with more leeway. Paradoxically, that's why I think business is indeed important.

After all, it is important to calculate and create content, but sometimes it is impossible to explain. For example, last year's movie "Joker" seemed dangerous if one thinks conservatively and rationally, but the content was able to breakthrough. I think the real beauty of content is its power to change something and its ability to defy logic. I think it's very important for creators and project teams, especially owners, to be enthusiastic and to have the enthusiasm and energy to work even though they don't know if they will succeed or not. Having this mindset and money are both important.Use these two to create something. If you create content because you think you must succeed, the content becomes old-fashioned.

So, it means having both the creativity, that can make one addicted to the content, and the business model that will make that happen, are both important.

I think so. I think that will lead to the leverage of creators. There are many chances gone to waste because of the business model. While many Japanese creators, especially animators and writers, have been aspiring to become professionals for a long time, it is regrettable that their talent is being wasted one after another while the business model is not being updated. I think the 2010s was a time of change. In the animation industry, video packages have not been selling well and Internet distribution has become mainstream. Due to these circumstances, I think our mission is to properly catch up with the market from the business side and create an environment where creators can fully demonstrate their abilities.

I think that’s wonderful. Are there any genres you would like to focus on when you produce virtual talent?

I don't know if it is a genre, but I think that “once-in-a-lifetime chances” will be an important theme from now on. I think there will be more demand for things that can only be experienced at one certain time. At the same time, I think something that allows the participation of users is suitable for the present age. As people’s social values are changing "from tangible things to the intangible, from intangible things to people," if these are combined, I think interactive music events become possible. In addition to 5G, AR such as xR and so on, as well as smartphones, the environment for interactive participation is in place. For example, you can play a game on your smartphone, when you execute a command, it will be reflected in the world of the game. Such interactive entertainment has been existing for a long time, but I feel that virtual talents are evolving more than games are. Virtual talent has its “character” as its axis. In the case of games, anyone can get involved with the characters appearing in it, so there is no rarity in the experience. That character doesn’t live in the same world as us; it lives inside the world of the game. In that sense, that makes virtual talents really alive. Involvement with such talents is rare, and with the Internet assuring simultaneous interaction, users can deeply immerse themselves in the content.

It is also difficult to ensure interaction in content with real people. Take the virtual YouTuber's money-gifting feature. When you give money, it is replaced into CG data and falls right in front of your virtual YouTuber. For example, if you buy an apple for 100 yen and give it to a virtual YouTuber as a gift, the apple will fall in front of the virtual YouTuber who would then eat it. If you replace this with a human, it’s not possible. This is the good point of going fully digital. I think it has the effect of making the distance between fans and entertainers closer. When you combine factors such as the emphasis on people, the real-time nature, the high level of engagement, and the things you can only experience at that time, you get a "live" experience.

I see. Are you going to focus on live performances in the future?

Let’s see. We’d like to focus on music concerts. Interactive live concerts, that is.

©Kizuna AI

I think your company is actively planning concerts. Is there anything difficult for virtual YouTubers to do during concerts?

We still need a device to show the video, so it takes a lot of money and labor. The value of virtual YouTubers can increase with the support of human labor and equipment, so in this perspective, the value of human artists is already high. Because the concerts of virtual YouTubers are events in which various technologies are operated by people, sometimes the video does not display as expected in real-time or a lag between the sound and video occurs, or pixels that did not appear in the video during rehearsals appear during the actual concert.

This is different from virtual YouTubers, but when I saw a live performance of Hatsune Miku, there was a time they had to stop the concert for ten minutes due to equipment trouble. Hatsune Miku is a content that is done with so much detail, so when trouble occurs, it is difficult to deal with. They also could not do a proper follow-up when they restarted the show. In the case of virtual YouTuber, you can cover up with an "I'm sorry" even in the middle of trouble, and you can also follow up on the situation.

That's true. To be honest, we had a few similar experiences, but at that time we were doing it in real-time, so virtual YouTubers themselves were adjusting according to the situation. Also, they sang and danced live, so there were times when CG models got messy due to a defect, but on the contrary, I was glad that it really had that “real-time” feeling. It was the time when our company held the music concert, so to be honest, my heart was beating fast at that time, but I was strongly impressed that the audience was buzzing in pleasant conversation even at the time of the trouble. My mind went blank that day, but looking back, it was real-time, and the trouble gave that real-time feeling. So I think it's good that the programming wasn’t perfect. It was a memorable experience because I could live in a virtual world because I am alive. But I don't want it to happen again anymore (laughs).

I believe you are also holding events overseas; I have seen Kizuna AI perform in Indonesia. I think it must have been tough at that time, but is the possibility of equipment trouble occurring overseas higher than in Japan?

Overseas, yes. The situation is exactly the same as bringing a real artist, but the skills of local staff and the concept of rehearsals are different from Japan. We have held events in about 10 locations so far, but there are many difficult points because it is new content.

Do the infrastructure and the local environment have an influence on the event?

Well, the Internet connection is completely different in each region. For example, in the case of China, it was fine during the rehearsal, but the connection became weak when the show started because there were so many people. We heard about this issue in advance so we were able to make the connection stronger so it was not a problem. However, there are places that cannot deal with this issue. There were times when we had to go out on a limb. There were times no one knew what would happen in a certain venue or times when nobody knew what was happening, and times when the things we could do were limited. We faced numerous troubles, but it was the warm reception of the fans that saved us every time.

Right now, Japan is said to be the pioneer in using 5G technology in the world, but if we can really use the 5G in every country, I think the event will not just be one-sided viewing but will become an interactive event, broadcasting simultaneously in New York, India, and Europe, where Kizuna AI will go around each venue and communicate with fans from each city. That's why we are really looking forward to the improvement of 5G technology and equipment.

That’s really exciting. Is there anything else you would like to do in the future?

We intend to provide real-time, interactive content such as VR viewing, live viewing, and viewing from smartphones that allows users to try a variety of devices. What we are doing is creating a stage in the CG world. If you do it in an actual venue, images will be transmitted through equipment such as LEDs and transparent displays. If we change the way we do it, we can make it possible for people to simultaneously participate from various places, for example, by showing images to people who are looking at a smartphone, or by providing people who participate using the head-mounted display for VR with the experience of being in that virtual space.The requirements are that there must be multiple devices and that fans can participate with those devices properly.

There have already been a couple of VR concerts done by our company and elsewhere, and when you give money or wave a penlight in VR, it shows up on stage. If one can give money using their smartphone then they can interact with that virtual world, they will feel like they are involved with the concert and they would get into it more. I think it will also be a new experience. If you want to get closer to the stage, you can watch it in VR, if you want to enjoy it with everyone, you can go to the actual venue, and if you want an easier way of watching it, you can watch it on your smartphone.Even if you are watching from a different place or on a different device, everyone will maintain the value of the experience very high. Instead of just doing concerts where fans are bystanders, we want to create interactive streaming entertainment where virtual YouTubers in the audience can communicate with each other saying things like, "Oh that person wearing a red hat over there is this person or that.”

Regardless of age or gender, people who can't go to the venue can still enjoy the content then.

It could be VR, a smartphone, TV or PC. However, I think it is very important to create real-time participatory content so that participants can communicate as much as possible and do not become just bystanders.

It would be exciting to have such an event. Your company produces Kizuna AI and YuNi. Could you tell us the current status and future development of these two?

For Kizuna AI, we always think of the overseas audience, and by performing in Summer Sonic last year, she was able to perform in front of not only her own fans but also in front of music fans from all over the world. After all, we combine xR Entertainment and the character that is Kizuna AI because we want to be more active overseas. We are also increasing the number of songs written in English. TeddyLoid composed a song called "Fireburst" and although it contains a little Japanese, we tried to write almost all of it in English for the first time.

©Kizuna AI

YuNi is also a singer who aims to have anime tie-ups and be more active around the world. We have the 2020 Olympics coming up, so we would like this to encourage the world to pay more attention to Japan. We would also like to expand business with our eyes on the international market as a whole so that we can hold live performances by virtual talent overseas. That is why we will naturally increase the number of concerts and new songs, and we will be more aggressive in activities.

©2019 YuNi

Next : Takeshi Osaka Interview Part.3 will be published on 9 March, 2020


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