South Korea's latest fad -- gastronomic voyeurism -- offers surprising amounts of money to thousands of online diners while serving up a sense of community in the wealthy Asian country's increasingly solitary society. (Courtesy: RTV/Handout/CBS)
Park Seo-yeon sets the table with dishes of Korean beef, kimchee casserole and rice.
Switching on her computer and camera, she begins to eat alone as thousands of viewers watch and chat with her in real-time over the Internet.
South Korea's latest fad -- gastronomic voyeurism -- offers surprising amounts of money to thousands of online diners while serving up a sense of community in the wealthy Asian country's increasingly solitary society.
Known as "The Diva", Park broadcasts for up to three hours every day from her apartment outside Seoul. As the show progresses, viewers send her virtual balloons worth 100 won (9 U.S. cents) each, giving her an average monthly income of about $9,400.
Park, 34, said the most she earned in one sitting was 1.1 million won ($1,000).
"People enjoy vicarious pleasure with my online show when they can't eat this much or find that food at night or are on a diet," she said minutes before a recent broadcast.
She checks on the chat room while eating a Korean style beef tartar called "yukhoe".
In modern South Korea, families are fragmenting as old social ties break down.
One-person households are set to increase from 25.3 percent of the total in 2012 to 32.7 percent in 2030, the fastest rate in the rich countries that make up the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, research papers show.
Some 3,500 people are running food-eating shows and some hit programs are sponsored by restaurants.
"It feels as if I am eating with her. I think that's what the show is about. Especially, it's likely comforting for people who eat alone," Park Sun-young, a 26-year-old viewer of The Diva's broadcasts, said at an Internet cafe.
Some experts say the success of such online dining show is all about human nature.
"Eating is an awkward action when you do it alone. When you eat with other people, you eat more as your appetite grows. Those people eating alone watch this kind of dining show, thinking they're eating together with others under an illusion," said Professor Keumjoo Kwak at department of Psychology of Seoul National University in Seoul.
The Diva, who calls herself "the woman who lives life to eat", said she is not simply making money from a food binge and believes she is helping society.
"It feels great when people say 'I recovered from anorexia thanks to you,' 'I'm in hospital doing or eating nothing, but thanks to your show, I can have a fun and delicious time in this weary place,' or 'I lost eight kilograms as I could feel a vicarious satisfaction with you eating,'" she said.
Park began her show as a hobby three years ago. She has quit her job as a consult and eating online is now her sole source of income.