VTubers are buying 15 seconds of Times Square fame for $40, but is it really worth it?

Andrew Amos
Uki Violeta on TSX PixelStar billboard

Times Square is one of the world’s busiest intersections, and slots on its iconic billboards go for tens of thousands a day. TSX is offering influencers a slice of that pie with just $40 slots on its PixelStar ad space, and VTubers are flocking to it. But is the novelty worth it?

Everyone wants their 15 minutes of fame. In the influencer world, it can be as simple as going viral with a hit video, stream, or post.

But now there’s a way to get that fame in the middle of New York’s iconic Times Square, passed by more than 300,000 people daily, for as little as $40. 

It’s only 15 seconds that entertainment company TSX is offering social media stars with their PixelStar billboard. However the novelty of the product has seen more than 200,000 users download their app in its first six months, and users book out slots day and night.

“We had this vision to create the world’s largest social feed in the most traffic location in the western hemisphere by giving anyone a new canvas to be creative on,” TSX co-founder and co-CEO Nick Holmsten told Dexerto. 

The program sells itself as an opportunity to “be featured on the world’s largest social feed.” There’s a myriad of ways to use it: “Showcase your talent. Celebrate milestones. Surprise a loved one. The possibilities are limitless.”

It’s a simple design too. All you have to do is upload a video or photo, crop and trim to your liking, and then you can have your face beamed out to thousands. Not there on the ground? You can watch the 24/7 livestream.

“We have always believed that the only way to move culture and create buzz is to create a feeling of community by combining a physical event with an underlying digital platform that leverages social media for amplification,” Holmsten added.

TSX PixelStar billboard in Times Square
TSX’s PixelStar program gives anyone the chance to beam themselves up into Times Square, but it’s geared towards influencers.

In the gaming world, Times Square might come with the cringe-worthy memory of Tyler ‘Ninja’ Blevins flossing during the New Year’s countdown. 

But with this new project reducing the cost of entry significantly in one of the world’s most hotly-contested marketing spots, stars can forge their own paths. 

The group taking the biggest advantage recently? VTubers.

Virtual stars have been beamed up into Times Square before. Fans of Hololive star Ouro Kronii got Council’s Time Warden plenty of air time in the busy strip as a birthday present. Even independent stars, like Fefe, have managed to raise the required funds to take the traditional route.

And it was while she was recently in New York, funnily enough watching herself appear on another billboard just up the road on 1530 Broadway, that Fefe saw this opportunity crop up.

“I saw an advertisement about the app and honestly at first I was really confused so I looked on Twitter and saw people were putting Spongebob memes on it so I thought I’d check it out,” she told Dexerto.

“I didn’t really think much of it at first until I saw someone mentioned it was only $40 which shocked me considering I’ve been spending like $5000 for billboards.

“I thought maybe it was a scam, so I downloaded the app and tested it by putting a Jojo meme on it. Well it was actually really easy and my Jojo meme was up on the billboard about an hour later.”

Fefe got herself up on Times Square, again, on July 13 through PixelStar. She shared a 15 second animation showcasing her VTuber, emanating thunder and lightning. 

And while the novelty of appearing in the Big Apple was stripped back for her, the same can’t be said for other creators.

Aki, or ‘orangeisborange’, got to appreciate it herself as a gift from a friend. She was aware of the billboard’s existence thanks to Pikmin fans posting memes in the leadup to Pikmin 4’s release.

She thought the luxury of being placed in Times Square was for “really rich and high-class people only.” But when a friend asked her for a quick video with her model, she didn’t expect to then see herself on the big screen.

“They didn’t really explain why,” she laughed, “[then the] next day I found out I was in the middle of Times Square waving to people who passed by.”

This kind of use of TSX’s PixelStar billboard has become pretty popular in the VTuber community because of its accessibility. 

Historically fans have had to crowdfund hundreds, if not thousands, to rent billboards in train stations or on the sides of buses to flex their favorite creators. But thanks to TSX, fanbases of Uki Violeta and Shoto have easily gotten funds together to throw their oshi up there. 

However this raises questions about what purpose the billboard actually serves. 

TSX’s PixelStar program isn’t made to be an advertisement. The videos are only 15 seconds long, and the community guidelines prohibit a lot of forms of advertising. At the most you’re getting a quick audioless video with a couple of social links up there.

“Considering they have a no self promotion policy there’s no real benefit from using TSX from a marketing standpoint,” Fefe noted. “It’s more a fun thing to show your friends and make cool memes. 

“Normal advertising does cost a lot but you get free reign to promote yourself. I’ve seen a lot of growth from people seeing my Twitch link or Twitter handle on a billboard I’ve paid for.”

It requires a bit more effort to actually convert that audience, and right now that usually comes from promoting the fact you’ve been in Times Square elsewhere.

“Sure having something like that could be interesting but I doubt a lot of people who saw it in person probably [thought] much of it,” Aki added. 

“I could see it being a tool though, because when I did post it on Twitter I wasn’t expecting a lot of people to like it, or for it to blow it up a little. But things always happen in mysterious ways.”

There are potential issues for some creators with more suggestive appearances ⁠— even if not outright adult. Fefe said she had six clips with her default VTuber model knocked back from appearing. Aki also mentioned the moderation was strict to try and save public face. 

“I do understand from a business standpoint, but it does seem like they just kinda immediately write off anime girls as lewd,” Fefe said, drawing comparisons to the policy of some streaming platforms.

Creators also see such a novelty having a timer before it loses its shine. Once it becomes standard to flick your face, or VTuber model, up there at least once in your life, then it loses its meaning a bit. It would just then convert into a meme bulletin.

In the interim though, especially for smaller creators, there’s real value: “I honestly find it genius,” Fefe stated. 

“As someone who’s spent over $30,000 on Times Square billboards, I’m aware not everyone is going to be able to do that. Thanks to TSX, people can experience what some consider a once in a lifetime opportunity for like $40.”

That was backed up by Aki: “It was kinda surreal to see it air live on a building. Some of my friends thought I was in New York because they saw it.”

It’s important to note neither VTuber actually recommended it for any sort of audience growth. The $40 will not get you thousands of clicks. But the fun experience is the big selling point.

PixelStar’s uptake has been quite the revolution in influencer spaces. VTubers are the latest to get on the trend, and as more communities tap into it, it will continue to spread.

“It’ll probably last the more people keep using it,” Aki said, “for comedic value or to say ‘Hey! I was in Times Square once!’ I guess to some it could be seen as something really cool. 

“For me it was a gift from someone who wants to see me succeed, and I find that far more important than some traction or numbers.”

The uptake has been noted by Holmsten too: “It has been fascinating to see how creative people are and how important it has been to the influencer community for content creation and reach. 

“The billboard has become an extension of social media, and our focus is to ensure we provide more features that the virtual influencer space wants.

However if the magic of PixelStar dies, it won’t be the end of TSX’s journey to try and give influencers space in some of the world’s most iconic markets. And that means more novelty chances to see your favorite VTuber in the real world.

“This is still very early for us,” Holmsten concluded. “Our tech and product team has some incredible new products and features in the pipeline, and you will see new creative formats being released in the near future.”

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