You may have heard of the Korean online phenomenon of watching live video streams of people eating, called ‘mukbang’ (먹방). Recently a different genre of video streams has slowly started to trend called Gongbang (공방). It’s name combines the words ‘공부’ (gongbu), meaning ‘study’ and 방송 (bangsong), meaning ‘broadcast’, to create a Study Broadcast. Ordinary people broadcast themselves LIVE with simply a webcam and Internet connection on the streaming website AfreecaTV (아프리카TV). The name of the website is not to be confused with the continent. AfreecaTV’s tag line ‘누구나 참여할수있는 공짜 방송’, meaning ‘a free broadcasting for anyone’ spawned the name ‘A Free Casting’, which was shortened to ‘Afreeca’. All LIVE streams that are hosted on the platform also have a live comment section, where viewers can communicate and interact, making the broadcast feel like a personal experience.
The Gongbang can be divided into two sub-categories. The first kind is hosted by a BJ (Broadcasting Jockey), and they ‘teach’ the viewers on a specified field. ‘Teach’ is used loosely as they must entertain primarily, but with an educational twist. In order to keep the views entertained, the hosts often use lively music, props and even costume changes. The content and each individual style of the host, make these gongbangs fun to watch. The broadcast seems like a teacher and student dynamic, because viewers watch for educational purposes, but gradually the viewers become fans and watch for fun. The BJ can benefit a lot from hosting these shows as viewers can give gifts which materialize as cash, and they can even build revenue from other websites like Youtube. Many broadcasters work full-time and earn a lot of money. One of the most popular gongbang BJs, is DeevaJessica (which I have mentioned in a previous post). She is like a teacher and a friend as she explains English grammar, but also chats about American popular culture, and plays games.
The second type of Gongbang is the complete opposite. Instead of a BJ, the webcam is fixed on a desk where an anonymous student is bent over books. There is no talking, or live commenting, in fact the only thing you can hear is the faint sound of pen scratching paper and the occasional paper flip. Why do people choose to broadcast such an uneventful task?
Some people LIVE stream themselves studying to prove to their parents that they are working. It could also be used as a self-motivation tool, as one is less likely to succumb to distraction if you are conscious that you are being monitored, therefore they will study more. However, the main reason is to broadcast for other studying students. Why would students want to watch another person studying?
Other students keep the broadcast playing to keep them company, while they themselves study silently. As the broadcast is LIVE, it creates an online study group where many viewers are motivated to study while watching one person study. Studying is often a marathon in Korea, as students study nearly 18 hours a day. The study broadcasts can go from 8am to dawn the next day, so many viewers use the broadcast as company and support.
The popularity of solo-broadcasting has increased dramatically since the launch of AfreecaTV in March 2006. AfreecaTV currently has 220,000 BJ’s, with numerous categories, and it is sure to expand further. Online LIVE streaming is gaining popularity in Korea because it is more natural than traditional TV, which is often scripted with canned laughter. The content creators are normal people, so the broadcast feels intimate and personal. Ironically the concept of AfreecaTV was launched as a TV show called ‘마이리틀텔레비전’/ ‘My Little Television’, where celebrities host their own ‘solo’ broadcast.
Why do gongbangs only exist in Korea?
Gongbangs are a by-product of Korea’s intense educational social infrastructure. Getting into university is very important, but it is equally difficult. Students feel the pressure from family, but also society as they must graduate from a good school to survive in the competitive job market. But, despite growing pressure there are also growing distractions, as phones, games and internet tempt students every day. Gongbangs have created an online support system, where fellow students can encourage fellow comrades, which is one good thing that has spawned from the digital world for students.
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