By MACK MULDOFSKY, STEPHANIE FASANO and ASHAN SINGH, ABC News
(NEW YORK) — It was 95 degrees outside in Connecticut, but 300 degrees over the grill. Still, chef “Daddy Jack” Chaplin was completely unbothered as he live-streamed his show, “Cookin’ with the Blues,” to hundreds of fans on YouTube Live.
Viewers as far away as Russia and Greenland were watching as he made a delicious grilled ahi tuna with pineapple watermelon poké.
Chaplin, along with his partner, LaKisha Lee, operated a full-time restaurant called “Daddy Jack’s” in New London, Connecticut, until COVID-19 hit earlier this year.
As the health crisis pushed millions of people indoors, people like Chaplin took their passions and professions to the virtual world. Since then, everything from concerts to cookouts and extreme sports have appeared on platforms including Twitch, Youtube, Instagram and Patreon.
From the comfort of their own homes, streamers have been reaching thousands of followers with just the click of a button, and some have raked in thousands of dollars from just a single stream.
Chaplin tried to stick with their restaurant after the pandemic hit, but told ABC News’ Nightline that “slowly, slowly, [it] was getting more dangerous to be in the restaurant business.”
Forced to shutter their doors, the couple had to find another way to make ends meet. They started their new venture at the end of March.
“We started Patreon and saw all of the advantages of having one, which mainly is interaction and live streaming,” Lee said. “Jack found the platform and, you know, is using the platform in a different way. This income and just this time is just kind of helping us stay above — float — very comfortably. And, you know, we know that there’s potential, I think, to earn a lot more.”
She recently resigned from her job to focus solely on video production and managing the livestream and social media channel for Chaplin. It’s something she “never in a million years” would’ve thought she’d be doing, she said.
“Doing all the video work, and we’re doing it from home and really enjoying it, we’ve found,” Chaplin said. “It’s nice having a restaurant — all the commercial equipment — but to show people we can also really cook some meals at home.”
In June, the state of Connecticut began to allow restaurants to provide both indoor and outdoor dining service. But with Chaplin’s livestreams doing so well, he opted to keep his restaurant take-out only to safeguard the health of his staff.
“The world is in a financial crisis,” he said. “It’s a true blessing to have this opportunity. I tell LaKisha we’re just scratching the surface and making a nice income through it.”
Erin Wayne is the director of community and creator marketing at Twitch, a leading streaming platform. She says there are many others like Chaplin who have made the leap from streaming as a hobby to streaming as full-time income.
Though Twitch has long been associated with gaming culture, the platform’s users have turned anything and everything into a live experience.
“If you’re passionate about something, you can stream it,” Wayne said. “There’s people that are engaging in exercise and yoga. There are millennials that are watching games and they’re watching content. They’re hosting watch parties… They’re watching things together while they’re at home.”
Through subscriptions and virtual cheers called “bits,” Twitch has figured out how to generate income for creators. Wayne says people can earn anywhere from “a little bit of money” as a hobbyist to “quite a significant full-time living.”
Wayne said streaming also has the added value of fostering community.
“Especially in the light of COVID, creators are looking at ways that they can think about creatively engaging with people,” she said. “Now that the opportunity to go outside is so limited, they’re seeing that Twitch is actually a really good place to build those connections, form those relationships and talk with their communities and fans of things that they love.”
Some streamers expect their audience to do much more than just sit and watch.
Eric Salvador is the head instructor at Fhitting Room in New York City, a workout guru who is used to being in the studio around the clock.
“We were worried because our job was so physical and [required] being there in person in an actual studio,” he told Nightline. “As soon as the doors closed and we knew we couldn’t have people coming into the studio, we were like, we’re ready to launch.”
That’s when he and Fhitting Room founder Kari Saitowitz realized they needed to bolster their existing online platform, Fhitting Room On Demand.
“We immediately made that more accessible to not just our clients, but anybody anywhere,” she said. “We went from a seven-day complimentary trial to a 30-day complimentary trial, and we lowered the monthly subscription rate all the way down. Within three days of closing our studios, we were up and running with Fhitting Room Live.”
While most companies were making budget cuts and laying off team members, Fhitting Room Live has allowed Saitowitz to expand. She’s now essentially running two businesses.
“We’ve made a decision to continue to invest in the platform and are exploring what version 2.0 looks like,” she said. “We actually doubled the size of our corporate team and have brought in additional expertise … to help us scale.”
“We knew that we could sustain our business model doing this,” Salvador said. “Even if we do open up eventually, we can still offer these great classes. There are a lot of people that we can actually reach out to outside of New York with this virtual class… I think it’s here to stay.”
Back in Connecticut, Chaplin is also considering his options.
“It was my goal to retire, and I brought in two young chefs as partners and … [gave] them a great opportunity for their future: work hard and have ownership and eventually probably take it over,” Chaplin said.
Chaplin said he “absolutely” plans to stream in his retirement, saying it satisfies his creative needs.
The couple prioritizes making a deeper connection with supporters across the globe by responding to fans’ comments.
“In one month, we get 10 million minutes watched. I mean, it blows your mind,” Chaplin said. “It’s hard to fathom this ability to connect with that amount of people for that amount of time. It’s making connections all over the world.”
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