Every evening around 8 p.m, several thousand viewers tune in to watch one of South Korea’s most popular food bloggers eat huge quantities of food online.
And, boy, does she eat. On one Sunday evening last month, a journalist for Time watched her down $300 worth of prime beef, along with grilled zucchini, mushroom, pepper, eggplant and pumpkin.
After she eats, “The Diva” as she’s called — whose real name is Park Seo-Yeon — spends another two or three hours just talking to her fans, who communicate with her via a chat room which accompanies her live-stream channel.
And as CNN explains, for Park, online eating is not just a niche hobby but a significant source of income — she makes up to ©10 million ($9,300) a month from her broadcasts alone.
Nearly every day, Park prepares and eats her evening meal in her home studio, live-broadcasting for up to four hours at a time. “I try to look pretty, eat pretty, and eat a lot of delicious food,”she says.
Fans tune in to see what The Diva cooks, and they also send her recipes and ask her questions. As a sign of appreciation, they send “balloons,”a digital currency that can be converted to cash. She says she now makes about $9000 per month.
Time claims Park is at the leading edge of South Korea’s explosive broadcast eating fad. There are thousands of hosts, although she is currently the most popular in the category.
Park says there are two things driving the trend — an obsession with food, eating and dieting, and the loneliness of urban life.
“We think it’s because of three big reasons” the rise of one-person households in Korea, their ensuing loneliness and finally the huge trend of ‘well-being culture’ and excessive dieting in Korean society right now,” says Afreeca TV public relations coordinator Serim An.
Koreans hate eating alone. “For Koreans, eating is an extremely social, communal activity, which is why even the Korean word ‘family’ means ‘those who eat together,'” says Professor Sung-hee Park of Ewha University’s Division of Media Studies.
Park has made her parents regular guests. They drive to her home several nights a week to help her grocery shop, prepare food, and interact with the audience.
“We tell the fans they should eat with their parents,”says her dad, Park Il-lyun, 64. “Now I have my own fans too”
For some viewers Park’s broadcast is a nightly ritual that could be characterized as a virtual re-enactment of a family meal. The number of one-person households in South Korea is expected to increase at the fastest rate among rich-world countries, according Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.
“Many people are eating alone,”Park says. “My show makes them feel like they are eating with a friend”
CNN notes that with 78.5% of the entire population on smartphones and 7 million people riding the Seoul subway network every day, Afreeca TV is becoming particularly popular with Korean commuters, given that the Seoul subway has cellphone reception and Wi-Fi, and South Korean smartphones have TV streaming capabilities.
“Our mobile users surpassed our PC users a while ago, and most of our viewers watch our content while they are on the move,” says An.
Park quit her real estate consulting job last week to focus more on her eating broadcasts and potential spinoff businesses, including a clothing company.