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The latest social media craze is, yes, watching people eat food online. It’s a phenomenon known as “social eating,” and it originally started in South Korea, where the most popular “social eaters” can earn up to $9,000 per month. In South Korea, the term is “Muk-Bang,” which is a mashup of “eating” and “broadcast.” Think of it as people who are broadcasting their meals for cash.
At a time when most bloggers would be happy with just a few hundred bucks a month, this social eating trend marks a potentially significant shift in the social media landscape, as the whole notion of what constitutes “content” in the social media world continues to evolve. Live streaming video has replaced the written word as the preeminent way to create a profitable business model in the social media space.
“Social eating” is more than just a foreign fad that’s destined to die out after a few months. Twitch, the company that Amazon.com acquired for $1 billion in 2014, has opened up a “social eating” channel that co-exists next to the company’s video game channels. While the head of Twitch admits that he doesn’t really get the idea of “social eating,” there was simply too much demand from users not to add it.
And, in hindsight, the idea of “social eating” actually makes a certain amount of sense. Twitch – the place where videogamers go to watch other videogamers play games, is tremendously popular. And there are already YouTube stars that make thousands of dollars a month by creating videos that attract millions of views. There’s the whole NSFW niche of Internet “cam girls.” And live streaming – whether it’s Facebook Live or Instagram – is hugely popular these days.
And, from the perspective of food, there’s the popularity of “food porn” on Instagram (all those artfully created photos of dinner meals that keep showing up in your news feed) and the tremendous popularity of “how-to” cooking videos on YouTube. Obviously, there’s a natural fit between food and social media.
According to Twitch, which launched a Twitch Creative channel where you can watch artists do creative things, like painting a picture, the idea for the “social eating” channel was originally going to be part of Twitch Creative – a place to watch chefs create amazing meals, for example. However, the viewers wanted more than that – they wanted to see people eat all those meals. They wanted to be able to fire up their laptops or tablets and be able to spend some time watching people food online.
So what exactly do you get when you tune in to watch people eat food online?
The press release from Twitch perhaps makes social eating seem more glamorous than it really is. Maybe there are some people dressed up in funky costumes who consume prodigious amounts of gourmet food, all artfully created and composed in glamorous settings.
But you’re also just as likely to see a French couple hosting an online dinner party, where between mouthfuls of food, they exchange comments with the online audience. You might also see a girl in her dorm room, having some sort of snack with the lights turned off and funky candles lit — or a guy eating a plate of BBQ ribs.
For now, social eating seems kind of random, but a good Internet kind of random. For now, you’re not going to see a celebrity chef like Bobby Flay hosting a food eating session on Twitch – you’re going to see average people all over the world, broadcasting themselves to complete strangers, just talking and eating. Eventually, though, some of these social eaters will grow their audiences big enough to become stars.