Designing for Mukbang Audience
Mukbang is a specific live streaming genre in which the host is challenged to eat a large amount of food or extremely spicy food while entertaining the audience. It started in South Korea around 2012 and soon became popular in many other countries. Some Mukbang hosts even take it as a full-time job and gain huge income from it. My goal of conducting research is to understand the audience’s motivation of watching Mukbang.
Time Span: November 2018
The audience finds psychological projection in the host
Watching Mukbang is a way of breaking rules, breaking social norms and seeking irrationality for them
Live Mukbang audience is more curiosity-driven and excitement-driven, and considers Mukbang as a group activity
Recorded Mukbang audience is more introverted and considers Mukbang as a private activity
Recorded Mukbang audience is sensitive, self-cautious and emotionally reliant on Mukbang, but has contradicted feeling about showing it in front of other people
Main characteristics of Mukbang: the position of the food being placed is usually high which is typically high up to in front of the host’s chest, the camera is always at a till down angle, which exaggerates the amount of food a lot bigger, as well as the host is always a skinny person if she’s a female.
Asian Mukbang VS American Mukbang: unlike the Asian Mukbang that is usually a single host at home, the American Mukbang can happen in a car or a fast food chain and while a couple or multiple hosts performing at the same time.
The sources of Mukbang hosts’ income: business sponsors including restaurants, food brands and clothing brands, virtual gifts from the audience which must be split with the live streaming platform, and the direct sales of food and snacks to the audience.
Focus Group & Observation: I watched an episode of Mukbang with the audience and observed their motivations, I found that there is “appetize-driven audience” who pays attention to food and health issues behind Mukbang. There is also “curiosity-driven audience” who is a vegetarian himself but enjoy watching junk food challenge. The entertainment effect and the eye-catching content are the elements that this type of audience pay attention to.
They view Mukbang as a normal part of their daily routine that they wouldn’t think of telling anybody anything specific. They described Mukbang as “like a friend in daily life that you would check out what they are doing when you’re bored”.
They project themselves in the host as if the host is the ideal people they dream to become. They all started watching Mukbang out of curiosity, such as why a skinny girl can consume so much food while maintaining a good body shape. As they watch more Mukbang, they gain more fulfillment because the host is doing the things that they couldn’t do for various reasons.
Why food? Why a large amount of food? It’s a way of breaking rules, breaking social norms and seeking irrationality for them.
I designed two exercises in the co-design activity. Since most people watch Mukbang at home, I prepared furniture toys, white papers and markers that participants can use to display the layout of their home. I asked them to show me a journey of what they usually do before, during and after watching Mukbang by using the toys and telling me the story.
Why exploring the user scenario at home? Because what people do and how they interact with things at home can reveal a lot of hidden information and private emotions which people don’t normally show in the public.
“I feel guilty for wasting time on watching this so I never tell my boyfriend about it. At least watching the recorded short video clips makes me less guilty than watching live streaming because the time is more controllable.”
Watch Mukbang Before Sleep vs. During Dinner?
Some people like watching it before sleep, while the lights are off and the room is quiet. Some other people like watching it during dinner and then get back to work or study quickly. What’s the difference? Before we sleep is the most private moment in a day, that’s when we wrap up the day and recover. On the other hand, watching Mukbang during dinner is more for entertainment and company, it’s not the moment to recover because they can quickly get back to work.
In the second exercise, I printed various visual elements from the common Mukbang or live streaming websites and asked them to order these elements in a 2-dimensional chart. The x-axis represents the level of interaction and the y-axis represents the level of attention. The higher it goes means the higher they interact with or notice the elements from the screen.
The difference between live Mukbang audience and recorded Mukbang audience becomes very distinctive in this exercise. The recorded Mukbang audience only pays attention to the video covers, titles, the host and the food during the show while the live Mukbang audience uses a lot more interactive elements.
In order to understand the changes of emotions during Mukbang, I decided to role play my two of participants in the co-design session. I imitated the first participant who watch recorded Mukbang in bed before she sleeps. I first took a shower and then turned off the light in my bedroom. I then searched the host that she recommended and watched two videos. Each of them lasted for 7- 8 minutes and I decided to go to sleep after. The second participant was the one who watch live Mukbang after work. I ordered delivery food to eat during the show and imitated how she moves between desk, couch and bed back and forth after I finished eating.
User Journey Map
As it shows, the emotional trend of watching recorded Mukbang is more linear while there are more ups and downs of watching live Mukbang caused by more live interactions. Live Mukbang video is usually long and the audience can be easily distracted, so it requires more emotional simulation. Recorded Mukbang videos are usually short clips and the audience is usually more focused.
Product opportunity gap
A lot of the features on the live streaming platform are not being used by the recorded Mukbang audience, such as live chat, virtual gift and comment.
While recorded Mukbang audience needs a comfortable and private virtual space to watch Mukbang, the existing platform is more open to the public and full of social comments.
Live Mukbang is usually too long for the recorded Mukbang audience who is controlling about their time.
There is no platform specifically for Mukbang.
How might we create a platform specifically for recorded Mukbang audience to enjoy a private virtual space while satisfying their needs of “self-release”?
- Audience must be able to access videos on the platform anytime
- Audience must be able to save favorite hosts and quickly access their channels
- The platform must avoid social features that traditional social media users use (e.g. like, comment, follower, earning points, leader board)
Each video must be shorter than 15 minutes
- Mukbang hosts must be able to gain profit through the platform
- The platform should require very little learning curve and be easy-to-use
- The aesthetic design should provide a homey atmosphere and fit with audience’s home scene
- The interface of how hosts interact with the audience should look personal and private
- The platform could provide category of food and cuisine
A chat app where audience and host share videos and have private chats one-on-on as "friends". It is to weaken and flatten the traditional relationship between audience and host. By taking away labels such as the number of likes, followers and comments, the interaction becomes more private, personal and unintrusive.
Medium Fidelity Prototype
Intimacy vs. Publicity?
During the testing, the user has a better sense of intimacy, privacy and sincerity with the app design.
Attention vs. Inattention?
The user is not willing to only watch videos with full screen because it requires full attention from her. She likes to have videos auto play while she scrolls down so that she can switch freely between preview and watch the whole video.
Personalization vs. Generalization?
The user doesn't want a lot of personalized features because it makes watching Mukbang "awkwardly and intentionally special". She doesn't want to make it much different from watching other videos on YouTube and be labeled as a huge Mukbang fan. She considers it an ordinary entertainment in life and would like a lightweight platform.
Mass Network vs. Niche Network?
This is the only feedback I decided NOT to adopt. The user wants to have the option of viewing videos of other hosts she doesn't follow, even if she may not watch them often. It's similar to a news feed. Thinking about the purpose of making a chat app instead of a social media platform like YouTube and Facebook, I intend to keep it a niche platform where the user only connects with those "close" to be "friends".