July 10, 2023
SEOUL – Along Garosu-gil, a street packed with shops in Sinsa-dong, Seoul, there is a business offering four private screening rooms for hosting watch parties.
A new type of business borne out of the streaming era, it caters to guests who seek shared entertainment by watching content offered by an array of streaming platforms together.
“Customers, mostly in their 20s and 30s, come to share their subscription accounts to streaming services and enjoy the content together,” said a senior manager of BOID, the business, who wished to remain anonymous.
According to its website, BOID is a “universal streaming platform” with its name being a portmanteau of “beyond” and “void.”
Opened late last year, the space’s rooms feature 120-inch screens with projectors, Dolby sound and comfortable sofas. A group of three or more visitors can reserve a room for a cost of 15,000 won per hour, per person.
The store provides free access to local telecom firm KT’s streaming service, Olleh TV, and Wavve. For other platforms, like Netflix, Disney+, Apple TV, Coupang Play or Tving, someone in the group has to have an account to log in.
“I think the growing demand for private cinema experiences amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and the continued popularity of over-the-top media services has led to this new type of business,” said the BOID staff member.
Some see it as the arrival of watch parties, which have been popular in places like the US for major sports events or awards shows.
To others, it feels like a revival of the “video bang” concept.
Video bang, one of the earliest types entertainment “rooms,” or “bang” in Korean, that emerged in the 1990s in South Korea, offered a diverse range of movies, initially in the form of VCR or VHS tapes. Patrons could rent a title and a room, with an hourly fee.
As technology advanced and DVDs became the new medium, these businesses transformed into DVD bang. However, with the decline of the “bang” culture overall, many of these establishments vanished over time.
The demand for renting a private space to watch something for a few hours appears to have resurfaced, with the increasing fragmentation of TV and film media, with various platforms vying for viewers with their own exclusive content.
According to local app analytics firm WiseApp, the number of downloads of major mobile streaming apps, including Netflix, reached 30.08 million in April this year, up 112.3 percent from the same month in 2019. It marked a 7.5 percent increase from a year earlier.
Not just bang, but entire homes, can be up for hourly rent for a shared viewing experience.
At the business, Netflix and Chill, one can freely watch content on Netflix, Watcha or Disney+ in a studio apartment furnished as a private screening room located in the Hongik University area, Seoul.
Its 120-inch screen and projector, high-end soundbars and low incandescent-hued lighting altogether create a cozy atmosphere, making the venue a perfect spot for watch parties or solo viewing.
Byun Woo-ri, a 26-year-old graduate student from Hongik University who has been living in a school dormitory for more than a year, is one of its frequent patrons. In her dorm room, there is no TV set.
“I sometimes get tired of watching someone on a small smartphone screen. It’s definitely refreshing to enjoy diverse content while relaxing in a large, comfortable room,” she said.
Experts say the rise of businesses targeting active streaming service users reflects a growing tendency among viewers to value wider consumer choice.
“Unlike in the past when people just consumed dramas or reality shows in line with each TV channel’s schedules, people now choose what to watch on which platform. Such consumer-oriented media consumption gained momentum during the OTT boom,” said Lee Seong-lim, a professor of consumer science at Sungkyunkwan University.
“New businesses riding on the sustained popularity of OTT platforms will probably heat up the competition among OTT service providers scrambling to attract subscribers with their original content,” she said.