I have the answer for anyone who has ever complained that there isn’t a job that pays enough for doing nothing. This job does require work, but that consists of simply eating and savoring delicious foods. Welcome to South Korea, home of mukbang, a new industry which involves people paying thousands of dollars per night to watch a BJ. No, that’s not a blowjob, that’s simply a Broadcast Jockey eating in front of a webcam.
The strange mixture of eating, muk-ja in Korean, and broadcasting, bang-song in Korean, has developed since 2011. Over the course of the last four years, the cottage industry has turned into a national phenomenon. The process is relatively straightforward and has seen top BJs appear from all segments of South Korean society. While the majority of performers are younger, the most successful all demonstrate the ability to play up to the camera and engage with the audience while slurping their food as loudly as possible.
Although in South Korea it is considered rude to make a lot of noise while wolfing down your food, it is an essential ingredient to a successful mukbang production. Napkins are also unnecessary for the performers because the more sauce or food they slop all over their face, the more money they’re bound to see deposited into their account. Entertainment, noise, and delicious looking food are central to a successful broadcast.
The way the system works is that the BJ will sit down for 2-3 hours per night and dig into an array of foods, ranging from noodles, rice, soup, and dumplings to non-traditional Korean fare, including American-style French fries, pizza, and ice cream. The presentation of all of this food is important, as it must be lit so that viewers are able to see the banquet laid before the mukbang master. For those trying to enter into this field, which is highly competitive, they need to provide their own food.
However, for someone established as a successful Broadcast Jockey, sponsors provide the food and drink devoured before thousands of viewers each night. These sponsorship deals don’t just include the products, but also annual payments to the performer. You may be wondering how these South Korean foodies make money from their viewers. An interface provided by the tech company AfreecaTV allows users to join a video chat. As the BJ is slurping and sloshing their way through a meal, subscribers chime in with their thoughts, feedback, and suggestions for future meals. If the BJ is attentive to these comments while still gorging on the tasty food, they’ll receive virtual balloons from the viewers, which are converted into cash at the end of each session.
So what does a successful Broadcast Jockey pull in? Well, the top-rated performer walked away with $250,000 last year. Just let that sink in for a moment. Less successful, but still popular BJs make about $1,500 per week, or $78,000 per year. How is that possible? The market is huge for mukbang, with over 45,000 viewers tuning in each night. The reason so many people are sitting down for these shows are threefold. First, more South Koreans than ever before are living alone and are quite lonely. This type of viewing relationship helps fill the void of eating meals without company. Second, many subscribers are on a diet and live vicariously through the BJs as they devour meal after meal. Finally, in a country focused on perfection and artificiality, there are few things more real than someone messily digging into a meal and enjoying each and every bite.
Actually, the rationale isn’t that important. The money is honest and the demand is growing. Sign me up.