Live streams of people playing games, eating food, talking with the audience through chat rooms — these are your average broadcasts at AfreecaTV, a live streaming medium where broadcasting jockeys, or BJs, create all sorts of content. AfreecaTV started in May 11, 2005 as a closed beta service. With the increasing popularity of live streaming shows in Korea, AfreecaTV also enjoyed a large growth in both revenue and size. However, since the end of last month, a scandal of gabjil, a Korean slang that roughly translates to “abuse of power”, has put AfreecaTV’s strong position in the Korean live streaming industry on thin ice.
The controversy began with the unfair treatment BJs “Daedoseogwan” and his wife “yum-cast” received when they did an advertising broadcast without notifying AfreecaTV. Daedoseogwan and yum-cast both received a seven-day broadcast ban for this on October 14, which prompted them both to transfer their broadcasts to YouTube, while abandoning AfreecaTV completely. This transfer confused viewers, since Daedoseogwan and yum-cast’s reaction seemed irrational especially considering the lengthy five-year and almost ten-year broadcasting experience both BJs had on AfreecaTV respectively. However, Daedoseogwan, in his first YouTube broadcast, explained his decision saying that it was not the seven-day ban that was the problem, but instead the hosting fee AfreecaTV demanded for broadcasting a stream with advertisement purposes. He further explained that every time he had any broadcasts with advertisements, he had to pay AfreecaTV eight to ten million KRW as a hosting fee. This time, when he did not pay AfreecaTV due to complications, AfreecaTV threatened Daedoseogwan that a seven-day ban will be placed if he didn’t pay the hosting fee. He criticized this policy as unfair since other BJs did not have to pay as much even though they had advertisement banners on their stream. He also commented on how disappointed he felt about AfreecaTV’s attitude towards him and his viewers as AfreecaTV banned him immediately without giving him time to explain the situation to his viewers. Daedoseogwan and yum-cast’s transfer urged discontent BJs, who found AfreecaTVs’ policies faulty and unfair, to leave AfreecaTV. Another famous BJ “Ddolking” left AfreecaTV, commenting on warnings he received from the site for streaming on YouTube at the same time and complaining that some other BJs who did the same never received warnings. Other users left AfreecaTV because of the revenue policies that allow AfreecaTV to take a larger percentage of the revenue compared to other streaming sites. With more BJs, both famous and small-time, reporting an increase in profits after leaving AfreecaTV for other sites such as YouTube, Twitch, Daum tvPot, opinions diverge between supporting those BJs and criticizing them. However, AfreecaTV continued to lose a large portion of viewers.
In response to Daedoseogwan and yum-cast’s transfer, officials of AfreecaTV claimed in an interview that they did not pressure them to pay hosting fees. However, as more BJs stepped up claiming to have suffered from AfreecaTV’s gabjil and started to leave AfreecaTV, AfreecaTV announced a change of policies that included further clarification for broadcasting advertisement and broadcasting on other sites. The new terms state that advertisement broadcasts are to be reviewed before broadcast and for BJs with advertisement contracts, the content of broadcasts are to be agreed upon beforehand with AfreecaTV. As for broadcasting through other sites, AfreecaTV allows standard BJs to do so but bans “BestBJs”, BJs that receive special benefits for being famous, from doing so. To follow up with the changes, AfreecaTV made another interview in which it further explained its terms and further commented on how they have no choice but to be stricter policy-wise compared to foreign sites. Unlike Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube where the site itself is not blamed for illegal and lewd content, AfreecaTV claims that as a Korean site, they are blamed by the users and viewers if such content is uploaded. Nonetheless, the majority of opinions toward AfreecaTV and its attempts to defend itself seems to be negative.
AfreecaTV’s loss is uncannily similar to Aesop’s fable of a goose that lays golden eggs. AfreecaTV’s gabjil, whether it be forced by gabjil of telecommunication agencies or not, led to their biggest BJs, its goose, leaving their site for more profitable foreign online platform sites. With AfreecaTV’s future uncertain, some people say it’s the end of AfreecaTV’s dominance in Korean live streaming. Others say AfreecaTV can carry on with its remaining BJs. With foreign streaming sites on the rise, AfreecaTV’s turmoil may signal great changes to come in Korea’s live streaming industry.