Fri, Aug 21, 2015 - Page 6 News List

FEATURE: Meal and Webcam bring unlikely fame in S Korea

KIM’S 15 MINUTES:Kim Sung-jin, 14, hosts a popular Web show in which he eats and talks, while other Web shows feature lone people drinking liquor or studying


Every evening, 14-year-old Kim Sung-jin orders fried chicken, 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 is the show, and it makes Kim money: 2 million won (US$1,700) was 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.

While the Internet has been making stars for years — from bloggers to gamers who play for millions of YouTube viewers — outsiders might find it puzzling, if not outright bizarre, for young people to spend hours watching someone eating.

However, 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 about 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 10pm.

The show also brought him unexpected joy: He said that even though he is 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,” he said.

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 the society.

“Even if it is online, when someone talks while eating, the same words feel much more intimate,” Afreeca TV executive Ahn Joon-soo said.

He said South Koreans have a common habit of bidding farewell to friends by saying: “Let’s eat together next time,” even when they do not literally mean it.

There are plenty of other quirky offerings on Afreeca TV. Late at night there is sool bang — broadcast 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.

However, Afreeca TV’s model might not translate across borders. The company’s efforts to make inroads in Taiwan, Japan and the US have met with little response.

Live-streaming videos are going mainstream, both in South Korea and overseas.

In Asia, services such as YYTV in China have been in use by tens of millions of users for years, and also have developed ways to let broadcasters generate income.

Meerkat and Periscope from Twitter, two live-streaming apps in the US, were launched in March. Facebook is launching its own live-streaming service called Live, although it will be only available for famous people.

South Korean search giant Naver rushed to launch a real-time video service where K-pop stars can live-stream their behind-the-scenes lives.

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