Gongbang creator Kim Dong-min has over 50,000 YouTube subscribers. Source: Kim Dong-min/YouTube

You’ve heard of mukbang — now, get into gongbang. It’s the “study with me” phenomenon where YouTubers live stream study sessions for up to 12 hours. Though the trend has been around since 2018, it is really taking off as classes go remote during the pandemic.

Here’s the lowdown on the trend.

What is gongbang?

Originating in South Korea, the term gongbang is a combination of “gongbu” and “bangsong”, which translates to “study broadcast.” South Korean students typically study for hours on end to prepare for their exams, so it’s no surprise that this trend originated there. They read, take notes, and do online research or exercises on camera. The idea is to have viewers study along, creating an online community that acts as a virtual study group.

Some of us enjoy soft lo-fi music in the background while revising. Gongbang viewers enjoy the company and find inspiration in the study habits of others. Bizarre? Only slightly. Encouraging? Most definitely. Whether they are egged on by camaraderie or rivalry, students find a motivating factor that keeps them coming back for more.

Gen Z students are more locked into the streaming culture than generations before; we log onto particular sites or apps to watch people dance and game. Over the past year, especially, many students have lost access to their favourite study spots and groups. Gongbang content creators have managed to tap into a timely niche, which explains why it is becoming increasingly popular on YouTube.

Who does it?

These days, gongbang commands attention worldwide. Besides the pioneers in South Korea, there are video creators in the UK, Singapore, and even Argentina. Interestingly, there is an ASMR appeal to these videos: the sound of pages turning, a pencil scribbling, or rain pattering on a window. Together, they create a calming atmosphere, which is a luxury for most online students.

It’s mostly people broadcasting themselves studying in silence, but a quick look on YouTube channel Study Vibes finds versions with pep talks in breaks, too. In the chat, students send in messages of hope or well wishes to each other. On one 8-hour live stream, one student writes to the broadcaster Helen, “I am making a project using Python so today we are both studying the same subject.” Another asks, “How can I be productive like you?”



South Korean students have long utilised technology in university life; gongbang is simply a current example. Source: Kim Jae-Hwan/AFP

Students have options online — they can find videos that match what they’re studying, or in environments they miss. Take “TheStrive Studies,” where an Emergency Medicine doctor in New York studies at home or in the library, with or without music, applying the Pomodoro method. Some go beyond gongbang, such as the  24-hour South Korean live-streamer and future tax accountant “The man sitting next to me,” who also offers study advice and ASMR videos for exam practice.