philip lelyveld The world of entertainment technology


Chinese video site offers virtual escape from ‘boring’ reality

bilibilicomiFeeling trapped in her "boring" life as a member of China's modern workforce, "Yaorenmao" escapes online, where she prances and preens in cosplay outfits for her 1.3 million fans.

Her alternative world is, a Shanghai-based video-sharing platform that has attracted more than 150 million Chinese users with its eclectic mix of user-generated videos and animation largely inspired by the Japanese world of ACG (animation, comics and games).

You can never leave

"I worked like a normal person after graduation (from university), but normal life and work are just too boring," she said, withholding her real name and occupation to keep her two lives separate.

Fans accumulated, often sending gifts or money, which she ploughs back into increasingly elaborate costumes and settings, including a 10,000 yuan ($1,500) trip to Japan to shoot videos during the picturesque cherry blossom season.

Her fans approach her amateurish work "with a generous heart and encourage me because they want to see me getting better and better. It's as if they are getting better and better themselves," she told AFP.

Spurred in part by a shortage of engaging youth-oriented content in China where Facebook and YouTube are blocked, and media and entertainment outlets are heavily censored, Chinese ACG is developing into a multi-billion-dollar industry, analysts say, drawing investment from tech titans such as Tencent and Alibaba.

Bilibili chairman Chen Rui told AFP Chinese millennials born in the internet age are increasingly inhabiting the virtual world.

Analysts estimate China's ACG world has more than doubled in the past four years to around 300 million fans whose spending within the subculture averages more than 1,700 yuan ($255) per year, and some predict the industry could one day rival its Japanese forebears.

Bilibili offers a bewildering array of material—70 percent of it user-generated—including role-playing, quirky personal videos like Yaorenmao's, amateur commentary on lifestyle, tech, beauty, fashion and entertainment, games, and of course Japanese anime series.

Bilibili launched an annual Shanghai convention in 2013 that drew just 800 people. This year's event in July attracted more than 100,000 uploaders like Yaorenmao and fans, most in their teens or early 20s, and many dressed flamboyantly in comic-character costumes.

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