Nelson Farias works nine hours a day in a house-turned-webcam studio in the La Aguacatala neighborhood of Medellín, Colombia’s second-largest city. His desk setup consists of three screens, which he uses to monitor the live, erotic webcam performances of nine models performing for clients all around the world. While some models sing into dildo “microphones,” pose, or touch themselves, others dance, exercise, or simply chat to users.
On one screen, Farias, 31, communicates with the models, messaging them about their lunch breaks, solving connection problems, and sometimes translating explicit client requests from English to Spanish.
He is a webcam “monitor” or “advisor,” who directs, assists, promotes, and trains studio cam models. Though most people unfamiliar with the industry don’t know webcam monitors exist, behind the scenes, they enable models to do their jobs and, in some cases, access an industry worth many millions. The Colombian camming industry alone, which is unregulated but legal, is worth an estimated $40 million, making it the world’s second largest, behind Romania.
Monitors have taken on an increasingly important role in Colombia’s cam industry, which expanded during pandemic lockdowns and drove many to start camming, often signing up to work with studios. Juan Bustos, founder of Juan Bustos Studios, estimates that about 10% of the camming industry workforce consists of monitors like Farias. Monitors help teach models the ropes in an industry for which there is no formal training, according to the three studios, six monitors, and seven models who spoke to Rest of World.
Though monitors don’t appear on camera, their fingerprints are all over the performances they manage. Axel Zapata, 22, who works as a monitor for Juan Bustos Studios, told Rest of World that he starts his day by designing a work plan for the seven models he oversees. The models work around a topic for the day — special shows, dressing up, or games of roulette.
Other monitors design the look and feel of the models’ shows, from their outfits to their makeup. Once models are connected, monitors will check the image and sound of the transmission, offering camera angle suggestions and configuring interactive sex toys if necessary. Monitors also take and edit photos for models’ social media accounts and draw up weekly performance metrics, offering financial advice to help them meet targets.
“[The monitor] should identify what the model is like — what her attributes and qualities are — and try to help her make the most of them in the transmissions,” said Andrés Fernando Bernal, CEO of Camaleón Models Group, a camming studio that operates in Bogotá, Medellín, Bucaramanga, and Cali.
Monitors also play the critical role of translators during live shows, interfacing with English-speaking clients in wealthier markets. “It’s like playing The Sims but with real people,” Felipe Paniagua, a former webcam monitor, said of interacting with clients in the voice of models who don’t speak much English.
Angela Jones, a sociology professor at Farmingdale State College, State University of New York, who has studied the online sex market and wrote the book Camming, says interacting with models is a major draw for users, and monitors are tasked with facilitating that communication.
“One of the things that came through in some of the data from clients was that they said, ‘Look, I’m not racist, but I want to be able to engage with the performer.’” said Jones. “And so they’re like, ‘I will filter out women from Colombia because I can’t understand them.’ There’s this ethnocentrism and racism that comes through in some of these comments about why they only want to engage with certain performers.”
Cam studios and experts who spoke to Rest of World said that established monitor roles are most prominent in large studios. Juan Bustos Studios, which claims to be one of the largest networks of camming studios in Colombia, says it employs approximately 2,000 models and 150 monitors, according to its founder. Verifiable data on the Colombian camming industry is hard to come by though, explained Julia Zulver, a research fellow at Oxford University, because studios in some parts of Colombia “operate with blurred boundaries between legal/illegal and formal/informal.”
Not all models use studios. Sophie Pezzutto, a Ph.D. candidate at Australian National University who studies the camming industry, says that models who have access to fast and stable internet connections can operate independently — and earn more — by directing their own shows and managing their own websites, social media, and promotion.
But according to research by Jones, low internet penetration means that models in countries like Colombia have to rely on studios, where computers, cameras, and reliable internet are guaranteed. In some of Medellín’s low-income neighborhoods, where most models Rest of World spoke to live, just over half of households have access to the internet.
Jana Ocampo, who manages Juan Bustos Studios’ 14 locations, said that studio sales increased by approximately 30% or 40% from before the pandemic to today. Models who started camming independently during the pandemic joined webcam studios as they realized they needed a support system or their home internet connections faltered. As a result, Ocampo said, “studios took on a much stronger role.”
Juanita Vega, 23, who started working as an independent cam model from home during the pandemic in August 2020, says it was “awful” without a studio or a monitor to help when her internet cut out. “There were some days when I wouldn’t do anything; I wouldn’t earn anything,” said Vega, who requested Rest of World use her camming username for privacy.
Ángel Rivera, 24, a model who has worked at Juan Bustos Studios for approximately eight months, has experience camming both in the studio and as a “satellite” model, a hybrid system where models can work from home with remote guidance from monitors. Though she earns more money from home, her outdated computer lets her connect to only one camming page.
But working with monitors and studios comes with its own price. At Juan Bustos Studios, the company keeps half of each model’s earnings if they complete 75 hours of camming every two weeks. Satellite models pocket 70% of their earnings.
Monitors like Zapata and Farias earn a monthly base salary of approximately $320, as well as a 2% commission from their models. That nets them between $455 and almost $650 per month. Monitors work on permanent contracts that pay for their social security and health care, unlike models who work as contractors and whose wages vary, depending on the success of their shows.
Juan Bustos estimates that 75% of the models and 50% of the monitors in his studio are women. (Ocampo estimates that the number of women monitors is closer to 40%.) Effy Salazar, a woman monitor who works at Juan Bustos Studios, believes that there’s an industry-wide preference for men in the role because of power dynamics. According to its CEO, Camaleón Models Group tends to favor hiring homosexual men as monitors because of previous “communication difficulties” between models and heterosexual men and women monitors.
When directing webcam shows, Farias imagines himself as the client. “It’s about thinking what would I like her to do to me and what I would like to do to her,” he explained. “Thinking very sexually.”
After working at Juan Bustos Studios for a year, Jade Obi, a model who asked to use her camming name for privacy, has plans to become a satellite model. It would be a step toward greater independence and one that would allow her to keep a higher percentage of her earnings.
Jade has saved up almost $800 to buy her own computer but still needs to buy a camera, lights, and internet boosters. She said she’s used her time at the studio to learn how to connect to the transmission and how to restart or update the programs if there’s a problem. She’s still learning how to configure the interactive sex toys. But even working from home, there will still be someone behind the scenes.
“No matter how independent a model is, she’s never going to be completely alone; she’s always going to have somebody behind her,” Zapata said.