Afreeca founder sees big picture

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Afreeca founder sees big picture

Jung Chan-yong, chief operating officer of Afreeca TV, dreams about being a media mogul, and that may not be as far-fetched as it sounds.

About 100,000 TV programs go on air every day via the online broadcast platform with 350,000 hosts known as broadcast jockeys, or BJs.

Last month, according to Jung, an average of 3.5 million people visited the website every day. Jung said the company posted sales of 48.1 billion won ($47.3 million) and had an operating profit of 4.4 billion won in 2013. Afreeca projects sales of 65 billion won and an operating profit of 7 billion this year.

The growth was unthinkable when Afreeca TV, formerly a personal computer-based online communication service provider called Nowcom, launched its service in 2006.

“Who knows if Korea’s second Sohn Suk-hee or Shin Moon-sun emerges from Afreeca TV?” said Jung in a recent interview with the JoongAng Ilbo, referring to the well-known anchor of JTBC News 9 and the veteran football commentator.

The online broadcaster so far has been mainly popular for game and sports programs, but hopes to open up a golden era of one-person media by providing ordinary people with various talents and interests a free place to speak up.

“People nowadays are hungry for broadcasts that they can participate in and sympathize with,” Jung said. “We will offer all kinds of content from news to sports, education and shopping.”

The name Afreeca is short for “all free cast.” A user can immediately start by downloading and installing a simple program package on a PC or smartphone. It is distinguished by other services with interactive communication between program hosts and viewers via a chat section.

Some star hosts make their shows legitimate sources of income, as viewers can choose to pay the hosts when they really like content or when the hosts reflect their requests on the show.

Last year, so-called meokbang got popular on Afreeca TV. The word combines the syllable meok, a shortened version of Korean verb meokda, meaning to eat, and bang, another shortened version of Korean noun bangsong, meaning broadcast. The programs, where hosts eat their favorite foods, got so popular that many TV dramas and entertainment shows from Korean terrestrial and cable channels started producing programs that emphasize celebrities eating.

“From now on, we will stream more content that can appeal to a wider range of the public in order to attract more people to Afreeca TV,” said Jung.

As part of efforts to expand viewership, currently concentrated on sports and game fans in their teens and 20s, the online streaming service yesterday announced it entered into a contract to broadcast TV shows with state-run KBS. Hosts will be able to do their own shows with KBS shows, and viewers can watch popular KBS shows such as “Gag Concert” and “Return of Superman” on Afreeca.

Afreeca TV also plans to provide differentiated live broadcasts of the upcoming Brazil World Cup.

“Regular live broadcasts from terrestrial channels are full of football jargon that many people may not understand,” he said. “In Afreeca programs, hosts sit down with viewers to explain the rules during the game, and they also will talk about other stuff like shopping and nail art during halftime.”

However, some worry about sensational and violent content delivered by some hosts, because some of them show raunchy content to get paid more from viewers.

“Reform efforts started to emerge recently,” Jung said. “As people are prone to spit or throw out trash on streets that are already dirty while they naturally aren’t in a clean hotel lobby, the hosts and viewers started to filter low-quality contents themselves, voluntarily.”

Afreeca TV is also preparing to explore the global market. It founded a branch in Japan last year.

“Google’s YouTube is a powerful player in video platform market, but Afreeca is more competitive as a live streaming platform that covers both PCs and mobile,” Jung said. “We hope to explore global market from China through localization.”


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