KPOP virtual idol completes “combination” debut, CJ ENM casts Afuninteractive

“CJ ENM’s music production capabilities and media foundation, combined with Afuninteractive’s digital technology, can cope with the rapidly changing entertainment digital integration situation and Metaverse’s core IP business”

In September, South Korean 3D content production studio Afuninteractive announced that it has received 10 billion won (approximately 56 million yuan) of Series B financing from CJ ENM, Timewise Investment, and Company K Partners for its virtual artist Apoki, new IP development, and Yuan Space content development and other businesses.

Afuninteractive, established in 2016, is a company that produces 3D content based on real-time rendering technology. Most of its staff are technicians from the fields of film, animation, and games, as well as artists from Disney animation studios, computer graphics experts, and overseas business people active in Riot Games.

After completing 5 billion won in financing including Timewise Investment and Company K Partners at the end of 2019, Afuninteractive will cultivate virtual artists as the company’s medium and long-term growth driver. In terms of the revenue structure, the plan is to consist of a multi-dimensional structure such as sound sources, performances, and fan products.

According to Afun’s representative Quandu Jun said at the time that Afun will take Digital Human as its core business and develop into a “Live character platform” through the linkage of IP and AI.

Under this strategy, Afun’s virtual artist debuted in the form of a song cover in 2019, and launched the official debut of “Get it Out” this year, with a typical K-POP idol mode of operation.

Behind the introduction of CJ ENM in this round, its business cooperation with Afuninteractive began at the beginning of this year. Since February, Apoki’s “Get it Out” and many other singles have been released by CJ ENM in cooperation with Afun.

Taking this financing as an opportunity, the two parties will further cooperate in digital IP planning and production. CJ ENM will be responsible for the release of Apoki’s albums and sound sources, as well as the holding of concerts and the development of MD products.

In the field of virtual idols, Korean entertainment companies have begun to deploy. For example, SM has previously launched a girl group aespa composed of four real members and their respective avatars. Artists in the real world communicate with AI Brian through the digital intermediate world. You can learn about SM virtual in aespa’s music and stage performances. The world view, and JYP, YG, and HYBE also invested a total of about 100 million yuan in the 3D virtual idol social platform Zepeto last year. After that , Zepeto launched the song MVs of the avatars of idol groups such as BLACKPINK and TWICE. BLACKPINK held it in the ZEPETO world. Virtual meeting.

From the perspective of the layout of CJ ENM, it used to invest in studios for the layout of the idol field. The subsequent cooperation between the two will be based on technology and content. In the future, CJ ENM will form “CJ ENM+Afuninteractive” in the virtual idol field. “The combination.

KPOP virtual idol completes "combination" debut, CJ ENM casts Afuninteractive

01 Afuninteractive builds the technical foundation of virtual artists

Before launching virtual artists, Afuninteractive’s main business was to provide new technical services such as 3D content production. The accumulation of technology in the early stage has laid the foundation for Afuninteractive to create virtual artists.

In terms of service provision, Afun’s three core businesses are Digital Human, Ganimation and High Quality Realtime 3D Contents.

Digital Human is the result of the application of CG technology in various media content fields such as holography, VR, AR, and AI. According to the official disclosure, Afuninteractive presents the most characteristic 16 expressions and facial movements through the 557 Blend Shapes it currently has, from pores to skin texture, hairstyle, motion capture and other detailed descriptions, so that the characters have a more detailed reality. feel.

The core thing to be achieved is: the similarity between the character and the real person, whether there is a sense of heterogeneity compared with the action of the real person, and whether it reflects the actor’s acting skills in real time. To this end, through the study of anatomy muscle performance and move and live with virtual humans in real-time moving object linkage, Afun achieve a universal virtual character.

Using its own technology, Afun has realized “virtual humans” that are very similar to real people and can communicate with the audience, and can also restore images of deceased celebrities.

At the 2018 commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the death of SK Group Chairman Choi Jong-hyun, under the planning of SK and SM Entertainment, Afun reproduced the image of Chairman Choi Jong-hyun with real-time rendering technology combined with SKT sound reproduction technology. In the future, Afun’s Digital Human technology will be continuously updated for concierge services.

KPOP virtual idol completes "combination" debut, CJ ENM casts Afuninteractive

Ganimation is a new technology created by Afun that combines animation and games. Ordinary animations need to be rendered for a long time, while Ganimation technology uses high-quality real-time rendering to shorten production time and achieve audience interaction.

High Quality Realtime 3D Contents is a real-time 3D content production technology owned by Afun. Afun uses this technology to provide high-end MR content services for automakers, entertainment companies, and mobile communication companies.

KPOP virtual idol completes "combination" debut, CJ ENM casts Afuninteractive

In addition, in terms of overseas expansion, Afuninteractive established its subsidiary Interactive AF in California, USA in November 2019. At the same time, it set up a studio in the United States, Virtual Production Studio, which intends to cooperate with local companies to develop virtual characters and officially expand into the global market.

In addition, according to Korean media information, Chinese and Japanese companies have recently expressed their intention to cooperate with Afuninteractive.

02 Virtual singer Apoki “debut”: Target KPOP star, CJ is an important behind-the-scenes player

With the technical background and the goal of cultivating virtual artists, in 2019, Afuninteractive launched Apoki, a virtual singer.

The virtual singer Apok is an image of a bunny from an alien planet . Its special feature is that it sings in a Disney-animated appearance and can also read audience comments in real time.

Initially, Apoki started uploading Kelani “Honey” cover videos on the YouTube channel, and uploaded various types of cover songs every week. However, Apoki’s project is not limited to online virtual Youtubers, but is developed for Kpop stars.

After his debut, Apoki acted as a true Kpop idol, not only did TikTok Challenge, but also broadcast live on YouTube to communicate with fans. Last year, Apoki appeared in the first XR live broadcast event “Octiv virtual music talkshow” launched by Transperent Arts and Tencent Music. Through motion capture data and real-time rendering, Apoki and singer Henry realized dialogue interviews, and the number of viewers exceeded 10 million.

KPOP virtual idol completes "combination" debut, CJ ENM casts Afuninteractive

In February of this year, Apoki released its first digital single “Get it out”, and appeared in the live show “it’s LIVE” of MBC YouTube channel Mdromeda, and performed a live performance with the band. In addition, Apoki also starred in Amazon online concert “IDENTITY: 2021”, M2 “Relay Dance”, music variety TVN “Amazing Saturday” and so on. It is expected that in November, Apoki will release its third single album.

KPOP virtual idol completes "combination" debut, CJ ENM casts Afuninteractive

From the perspective of Apoki’s activities, the series of processes of “cover video-debut-live chat-appear in variety shows-participate in concert-return to planning” is similar to the development path of traditional Kpop idols. Some Korean media believe that the emergence of such virtual idols can solve some of the problems frequently reported by artists recently.

At present, Apoki’s YouTube subscribers are 294,000. After adding up to the number of TikTok followers, it has accumulated about 3 million followers, and the number of views on the two platforms has reached 24 million and 120 million, respectively. In a horizontal comparison, the Japanese virtual anchor Kizuna AI launched in 2016 has nearly 10 million fans worldwide, and its YouTube channel has 2.98 million subscribers and has accumulated nearly 400 million views.

In terms of data alone, Apoki is still far from the “top stream”. In the context of this round of financing, Afun will continue to increase Apoki’s planning and content production, while seeking to monetize products such as albums, concerts, and peripherals.

In addition, according to the official website, Afun will also have new virtual artists preparing to debut.

From the information released so far, Apoki’s follow-up development, its investor CJ ENM will be one of the key players. The business cooperation between the two parties began at the beginning of this year. Since February, CJ ENM has cooperated with Afun to release Apoki’s “Get it Out” and other singles. Next, the two parties will further cooperate in digital IP planning and production. CJ ENM will be responsible for the release of Apoki’s albums and sound sources, as well as the holding of concerts and the development of MD products.

Regarding this investment, Park Jun-ho, head of the IP business of CJ ENM’s music content department, said that CJ ENM’s music production capabilities and media foundation, combined with Afuninteractive’s digital technology, can cope with the rapidly changing entertainment digital integration situation and the core of the meta universe. IP business.

03 Exploration of Apoki “NFTE” mode

As a Kpop artist, Afuninteractive first aimed at the NFT market when traditional monetization channels such as physical albums and concerts have not been fully opened.

On September 10, Afuninteractive, as the first company in South Korea to sign a sales contract with Binance, the world’s largest virtual currency exchange, released the virtual artist Apoki’s “Virtual Video NFT Card” on Binance’s “Mystery Box” section, with a unit price of 20BUSD. Some Korean netizens believe that the concept is similar to the “photo card” of an idol album.

KPOP virtual idol completes "combination" debut, CJ ENM casts Afuninteractive

Once the product was released, 25,000 Apoki NFTs were sold out within 2 seconds. Initial purchasers are currently continuing to trade on the secondary market. The transaction price exceeds 250 BUSD, which is 10 times higher than the benchmark price.

The person in charge of Afuninteractive said that Apoki NFT was sold out in a very short time, which allowed Apoki’s IP value to be recognized in the global meta-universe market. Upsell of NFT is currently under discussion.

According to the product description on Binance’s official website, buyers will get 17 iconic “highlights” related to Apoki’s single album “Get it Out”. Each NFT is an important part of Apoki’s passion for music and fashion, depicting Apoki’s “Get it Out” an unprecedented experience of roaming the universe.

Apoki NFT is divided into three levels of SR, R, and N according to the degree of rarity. The appearance probability of SR is 1.64%, while R and N are 6.25% and 7.78% respectively. Purchasers who draw rare cards can get to participate in the Apoki fan meeting. chance.

Unlike previous NFTs that focused on copyrights such as physical objects, portrait rights, and music, the special feature of Apoki NFT this time is the concept of “experience”.

Afuninteractive said that by extending the “experience” of the fan meeting of virtual artists to the NFT field, this model will grow into the “NFTE” brand (Non-Fungible Token Experience).

From the standpoint of Afuninteractive, the purpose of this cooperation with Binance is to develop the company’s revenue model and expand brand awareness. If this model of “connecting virtual reality and reality through metaverse” is successful, it is expected that more IP will follow the “Apoki NFT model.”

Although CJ is not involved in this cooperation, it can be seen that as an investor of Afuninteractive, CJ Group to which CJ ENM belongs has made many attempts on NFT.

In terms of NFT sales, in July this year, Studio Dragon, a TV drama production company under CJ, launched the iconic lighter NFT peripheral in the TV drama “Vincenzo” on the cryptocurrency exchange Korbit. After the purchaser fills in personal information on the pre-application page, Korbit sends a sales notice to the top 100 via SMS.

KPOP virtual idol completes "combination" debut, CJ ENM casts Afuninteractive

Korbit opened the NFT trading market on the Korean Virtual Asset Exchange for the first time in May this year, and is looking for high-quality IP for cooperation. Similarly, this “Vincenzo” lighter is Studio Dragon’s first attempt in the NFT field. It is expected that more TV series-related NFT products produced by Studio Dragon will be launched on Korbit in the future.

In terms of technical cooperation, CJ OliveNetworks, an IT service company under CJ, launched NFT development cooperation with Lambda256, a blockchain subsidiary of Dunamu, the operator of South Korean cryptocurrency exchange Upbit, on July 26. The cooperation includes NFT projects in Korea and abroad, and NFT platforms. Media technology and NFT service business.

CJ OliveNetworks plans to use its broadcast media-related system integration technology to provide Lambda 256 with the content management system, media asset management system and archive required to create the NFT platform. CJ OliveNetworks will be through the center of the cloud infrastructure, providing digital assets managed services, to ensure delivery EMC whole.

04 Investment logic of CJ ENM

As a large-scale integrated entertainment group in South Korea, in the idol market, CJ ENM mainly deploys by acquiring and investing in small and medium-sized brokerage companies, setting up subsidiaries and producing idol programs through Mnet.

Artists currently contracted with CJ ENM include SG Wannabe, Davichi, Kim Jae-hwan, Roy Kim, etc., and its labels include Stone Music, Swing Entertainment, MMO Entertainment, Jellyfish Entertainment, and Hiphop label AOMG.

Since 2008, CJ ENM has cooperated with JYP, YG, CUBE and other companies through its Mnet platform on a number of idol debut survival shows, including the boy group Winner, which debuted from “Win: WHO IS NEXT”, and the debut from “SEVENTEEN Project” The boy group SEVENTEEN, the girl group TWICE that debuted from “SIXTEEN”, etc.

Since 2016, CJ ENM has launched a large-scale idol survival program “Produce”, and limited groups such as IOI and WANNA ONE have been born. Last year, the 7-member boy group ENHYPEN debuted in the idol training program Mnet “I-Land” in collaboration with HYBE.

After the Produce series of fraudulent controversy, Mnet, which has been silent for a year, has launched a girl group talent show “Girls Planet 999” that gathers 99 trainees from China, Japan and South Korea for the global market this year.

In the field of virtual idols, CJ ENM is currently deploying mostly in the form of cooperation, using its professionalism in the entertainment industry to provide content support to the virtual image platform.

Last year, DIA TV, a single-player content creation platform under CJ ENM, cooperated with Naver Jet, which operates the avatar platform Zepeto. AR content produced by the creators of DIA TV and Naver Jet was released through Zepeto. Recently, CJ’s content production company Studio Dragon launched the Korean drama “Druner Hotel” on Zepeto, including the hat, dress, and accessories of the full moon in the drama.

KPOP virtual idol completes "combination" debut, CJ ENM casts Afuninteractive

At the beginning of this year, CJ ENM cooperated with NCsoft to launch the Kpop fan platform Universe, and signed an MOU for collaboration in the field of content and digital platforms . CJ ENM tried to create synergy with NCsoft’s IT strength in content production.

CJ ENM believes that the importance of technology in the future entertainment industry is increasing, which is also an important motivation for this cooperation. At present, multiple groups of Kpop artists such as Cosmic Girls and Jiang Daniel have entered the Universe. Fans can use the avatars of their idols for “AI Second Creation”, and they can also make calls with the voices of the idols synthesized by AI.

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