Fans fork out to feel closer to stars with private chatroom services
“Thank you for today. I was happy thanks to you.”
This is a message that a 37-year-old surnamed Kim, who is a fan of the “Volleyball Empress” Kim Yeon-koung, received from the sports star last month.
Kim received the message through DearU bubble for Sports, a service to which she has been subscribed since February and pays 4,500 won ($3.2) monthly.
DearU bubble is a private chatroom service that allows users to pay a monthly subscription fee to receive messages and photos from stars. The star sends a group message which is delivered in the form of a one-on-one chat for each user. Fans can also message the stars back, and the star can see all the responses in one group chat.
DearU bubble started in 2020, mainly servicing K-pop stars and actors. In January, DearU bubble for Sports was launched for fans to connect with famous athletes.
“It’s the price of a cup of coffee a month,” Kim told the JoongAng Ilbo, an affiliate of the Korea JoongAng Daily. “So it’s not much of a financial burden. If I could communicate more often, I wouldn’t mind paying even 45,000 won a month.”
A 35-year-old office worker surnamed Lee has recently been “texting” with her favorite actor Lee Dong-wook. Last month, the actor joined Private Message, a service on the fan community platform Universe similar to DearU bubble.
“I cannot say the monthly subscription fee of 7,900 won is a small amount of money, but communicating with him through Private Message became a source of energy for my life these days,” said Lee.
Fan communication platforms like DearU bubble and NCSoft’s Universe Private Message are seeing growth as they have captivated fans’ desires to feel closer to their favorite stars.
During the second quarter, DearU reported 11.6 billion won in sales and 3.5 billion won in operating profits, respectively growing by 22.5 percent and 0.8 percent compared to the same period last year. DearU bubble currently has over 1.5 million users. Over 80 percent of them are in their teens or 20s.
Universe also surpassed 21 million downloads within a year after launching in January 2021 and is currently serviced in 233 countries, including the United States, Japan and Indonesia.
Many users say they are glad to pay to have their favorite stars message them privately. Last week, actor Lee left a message for fans on Universe Private Message that reads, “Are you asleep? I guess you’re still up. I’m on my way home after filming, and I wanted to say good night.” Fans and netizens showed positive reactions, saying that it felt like receiving a romantic text from a boyfriend.
Kim, who is subscribed to volleyball star Kim Yeon-koung’s DearU bubble, said, “Seeing her text saying ‘I was happy thanks to you’ made me think this is exactly why I’m a fan,” she said. “It was so touching. When she was in the United States for training, she sent a lot of photos and stories about her everyday life in case fans were curious about how she was doing. It’s so moving as a fan to see her try her best to communicate despite her busy schedule.”
Fans say private messaging services offer a personal sense of connection, as well as a look into the celebrity’s more honest thoughts. However, the frequency and quality of a celebrity’s messages is prone to sparking arguments among fans regarding user satisfaction.
While many fans liken the monthly subscription fees to a “cup of coffee” and say it is not particularly financially burdensome, some point out that such “paid fan services” can leave some fans feeling ostracized if they cannot afford them. The private messaging services not only include text messages but also exclusive content and merchandise sales for subscribers. Some lament that fanhood has become impossible without spending money on platforms.
“Fandom-based marketing has already taken many forms and is happening in various fields,” said pop culture critic Jeong Deok-hyun. “Fan communication platforms is one of them, and they are infiltrating into everyday life. Discontent among fans is inevitable if certain platforms overcharge or offer content that doesn’t live up to the user’s expectations.”
BY KIM KYUNG-HEE [email@example.com]