A meal and a we­b­cam form un­likely recipe for S. Korean fame

The China Post - - FEATURE - BY YOUKYUNG LEE

Ev­ery evening, 14-year-old Kim Sung-jin or­ders fried chicken, de­liv­ery pizza or Chi­nese food to eat in a small room in his fam­ily’s home south of Seoul. He gorges on food as he chats be­fore a live cam­era with hun­dreds, some­times thou­sands, of teenagers watch­ing.

That’s the show, and it makes Kim money: 2 mil­lion won (US$1,700) in his most suc­cess­ful episode.

Bet­ter known to his view­ers by the nick­name Pa­too, he is one of the youngest broad­cast­ers on Afreeca TV, an app for live-broad­cast­ing video online launched in 2006.

Kim, who has a del­i­cate physique and chop­stick-like slight limbs, has been broad­cast­ing him­self eat­ing al­most ev­ery evening since he was 11. Some­times he in­vites friends to eat with him. To add fun, he once wore a blonde wig and dressed as a woman.

While the In­ter­net has been mak­ing stars for years — from blog­gers to gamers who play for mil­lions of YouTube view­ers — out­siders may find it puz­zling, if not out­right bizarre, for young peo­ple to spend hours watch­ing some­one eat­ing. But in South Korea, Afreeca TV has be­come a big player in the In­ter­net sub­cul­ture and a cru­cial part of so­cial life for teens.

Shows like Kim’s are known as “Meok Bang,” a mash-up Korean word of broad­cast and eat­ing. They are the most pop­u­lar and of­ten most prof­itable among some 5,000 live shows that are aired live at any given mo­ment on Afreeca TV.

Kim started the show es­sen­tially to find some­one to eat with. His par­ents worked in another city so he was liv­ing with his grand­par­ents, and they ate din­ner so early he got hun­gry at night.

He says the show made his din­ing more reg­u­lar, although most of his meals on Afreeca TV be­gin af­ter 10 p.m. The show also brought him un­ex­pected joy: He said that even though he’s just an or­di­nary teenager, “peo­ple say hello to me on the street.”

“I do what I want. That’s the perk of a per­sonal broad­cast.”

Many con­nect the pop­u­lar­ity of Meok Bang to the in­creas­ing num­ber of South Kore­ans who live alone, and to the strong so­cial as­pects of food in this so­ci­ety.

“Even if it is online, when some­one talks while eat­ing, the same words feel much more in­ti­mate,” said Ahn Joon-soo, an ex­ec­u­tive at Afreeca TV. He noted South Kore­ans’ com­mon habit of bid­ding farewell to friends by say­ing, “Let’s eat to­gether next time,” even when they don’t lit­er­ally mean it.

There are plenty of other quirky of­fer­ings on Afreeca TV. Late at night there is “Sool Bang” — broad- cast drink­ing — in which melan­cholic South Kore­ans drink liquor alone dis­cussing their tough lives. Then there is “Study Bang,” or broad­cast study­ing: A screen shows the hand of an uniden­ti­fied per­son writ­ing notes on a thick book un­der the light of a desk lamp.

About 60 per­cent of the 8 mil­lion unique monthly visi­tors to Afreeca TV are teens or in their 20s. That means nearly 40 per­cent of the 12.5 mil­lion South Kore­ans aged 10 to 30 watch a show on Afreeca TV at least once a month.

“Young gen­er­a­tions be­lieve that TV is nat­u­rally some­thing like Afreeca TV where they can in­ter­act with broad­cast­ers,” said Ahn, the com­pany ex­ec­u­tive. He be­lieves TV in the long run will be com­pletely re­placed by such apps.

Cho Young-min, a 12-year-old who has watched an online game show on Afreeca TV since he was a third-grader, as­pires to have his own show on Afreeca TV, not on the TV in the liv­ing room.

Ahn Won-jun, a 17-year-old high school stu­dent, said he prefers to eat din­ner in his room to watch Kim’s Meok Bang, rather than din­ing with his par­ents.

AP

Kim Sung-jin, 14, broad­casts him­self eat­ing de­liv­ery Chi­nese food in his room at home in Bucheon, south of Seoul, Mon­day, Aug. 17. Ev­ery evening, he gorges on food as he chats be­fore a live cam­era with hun­dreds, some­times thou­sands, of teenagers watch­ing. That’s the show, and it makes Kim money: 2 mil­lion won (US$1,700) in his most suc­cess­ful episode. Bet­ter known to his view­ers by the nick­name Pa­too, he is one of the youngest broad­cast­ers on Afreeca TV, an app for live-broad­cast­ing video online launched in 2006.

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