SEOUL, Nov. 11 (Korea Bizwire) – “What do you want to be when you grow up?”
In the past, typical answers ranged from a football player who could bend it like Beckham to a movie star dodging bullets like Keanu Reeves. Ask kids in their teens or younger the question today, and they just might bring up a vlogger like PewDiePie.
By now an indelible part of the Youtube ecosystem, for a long time Felix Kjellberg was a growing legend in the online community and a complete unknown outside of it. Though his channel “Let’s Play”, where he posts videos of himself playing games while providing running commentary, began to gain prominence for becoming the most subscribed to by 2013, the public really began to take notice when an article by The Wall Street Journal published the following summer revealed the Swede had profited from his videos to the tune of $4 million.
With the man known as PewDiePie eventually confirming that he was indeed a millionaire, he unofficially became the poster child for a new breed of celebrity, an internet personality who is also a “company with legs”. The expression, translated from the original Korean, is used to refer to globally well-known “Hallyu” celebrities to describe the immense earning power they possess. One artist who has frequently been tagged with the line is musician IU.
The success of these “companies with legs” can be explained by a trite business adage that goes “marketing is about controlling the eyeballs”, meaning to attract and keep people’s attention, something that a host of South Korean vloggers and BJs (broadcasting jockeys) are thriving at.
There may be no two people more famous among young children than “Carrie” and “DDotty”. Carrie appears on videos uploaded to her Youtube channel “Carrie and Toys”, where as its name suggests, she plays with a variety of toys and dolls. DDotty emulates PewDiePie by playing the video game “Minecraft” and peppering the gameplay with his unique brand of insights and humor. Both have amassed millions of views and hundreds of thousands of subscribers, becoming household names among children and increasingly among the general public as well.
Though eyebrows were raised after DDotty revealed his earnings to have been “the equivalent or more of a senior executive at a major conglomerate” after a year and a half of running his channel, even his extraordinary success is somewhat dimmed when considering the meteoric rise of Carrie and Toys.
From its humble beginnings CarrieAndToys grew rapidly by amassing views and subscribers, which led to the creation of diversified content such as CarrieAndBooks and CarrieAndSong. Branching out continued, with the creation of a content creation company (to be listed on the KOSDAQ next year per Asia Economic Daily), CarrieTV and with making inroads into China, racking up 660 million views.
Vlogging has two faces, unfortunately; while creators who cater to younger crowds like Carrie and DDotty steer clear of controversy, vloggers who try to “control the eyeballs” of older viewers can resort to morally dubious and at times illegal methods.
On November 6, Daegu police booked 28 female BJs along with three managers of a content production company. The women were charged with performing lewd acts and disrobing among others in exchange for “donations” from viewers. The police stated that over four months, the group had brought in 250 million won which was split between the managers and the women. Reportedly, each earned tens of millions of won per month.
In a similar case, police in North Chungcheong corralled a group of BJs and associated individuals on June 22. Sometimes even live streaming sexual intercourse to generate more views, the group brought in over one billion won via their venture.
The problem is especially pronounced at AfreecaTV, a live streaming video platform. Viewers shower their favorite “stars” with balloons, which are worth a paltry 110 won each. However, an unlimited number of balloons can be sent at once, making it possible to send whopping amounts of money or “donations” in one go.
This has enabled popular BJs to have profitable careers. A chart (AfreecaTV refused to verify it) depicting the earnings of the top BJs revealed that the top two earned an average of 500 million won for the first half of the year.
In the November case, the police stated that contrary to what they expected, the majority of the BJs were “regular individuals” who wanted to make a lot of money in a short period of time. In the world of vlogging, where in theory anyone can become a “company with legs”, some are willing to cross lines to do so. With vlogging expected to become even more profitable next year, one wonders whether the prevalence of these types of will increase going forward.
Kevin Lee (firstname.lastname@example.org)