Ajey Nagar of CarryMinati fame and his manager Anirudh Nagpal form an interesting pair. While 19-year-old Nagar comes across as a nerdy artist who doesn't mince his words, 21-year-old Nagpal tries to keep Nagar in check. Nagar is the talent and Nagpal heads the channel's business. Together they have gone places, met stars (Tom Cruise and "Superman" Henry Cavill), and watched National Basketball Association (NBA) matches from the coveted corner seats. All courtesy of their YouTube channel, which has over five million subscribers and is one of the most subscribed and watched channel on the platform in India.
We meet the pair in Nagar's home in Faridabad, where he and his team use a side wing of the house to produce his popular comedy videos and sketches. The production room has a Batman-Dark Knight book shelf and production equipment and one side is covered with wooden planks with CarryMinati's signature (often seen in the backdrop of his videos) and framed YouTube Silver and Gold Buttons. The buttons are given by Google when a channel hits 100,000 and 1 million subscriptions, respectively.
Popularly known as Carry, Nagar has been trying his hands at YouTube as a video blogger since he was quite young but finally hit the jackpot with his present channel when he was 16. His followers are mostly teenagers from across the country. The duo recently launched another channel on PUBG commentary and after the initial success have big plans for it. They claim they are not millionaires yet, but being a "status symbol" is much more important. "I ask people what they would choose: money or fame. You should choose fame because it takes you places," says Nagpal.
While Carry and Nagpal would not disclose their earnings from the channel, a major reason for their success is that most of the content is not in English (it's mostly in Hindi), which only widens the scope to reach a wider audience. Other channels prove this point.
Indian Languages Fly High
Carry's channel is one of the 300 channels on YouTube in India that have crossed 1 million subscriptions. According to YouTube, three channels cross one million subscriptions every week in India on an average, and 10 cross the 1,00,000 subscriber mark each day. India has more Gold and Platinum YouTube channels than any other country. In fact, it might soon have the channel with the most subscribers in the world - the Hindi channel of music record label company T-Series. It's in a close race with Swedish channel PewDiePie to become the world's most subscribed channel on YouTube. At the time of writing this story, T-Series had 77,260,823 subscribers, while PewDiePie had 78,365,101 subscribers.
We have 29 channels on YouTube; the first being our Hindi channel, which is more or less Bollywood; we also have a devotional channel and that too has crossed 10 million subscribers, say Bhushan Kumar Dua, Managing Director, and Neeraj Kalyan, President of T-Series.
"India is one of our fastest growing markets," says Gautam Anand, Managing Director, YouTube APAC. "We have had an extremely strong content ecosystem. Now, improvement in access to affordable data has led to an explosion in viewership; 60 per of our viewership is coming from beyond the top six metros," he adds.
YouTube data shows that in 2014, 16 channels had more than 1 million subscribers in India; this became 300 in 2018. Of these, 133 are by independent creators. This is significant because it is easier for large media companies and production houses with big teams and budgets to cross the subscription levels and get Silver, Gold and Platinum buttons, but not so for individual creators. Aaj Tak, part of the India Today Group, for instance, is now a Diamond channel.
As Internet access increases, the monopoly of English language is waning and the space is becoming more diverse, especially in videos. According to a report by Nokia-MBTI, online videos account for 75 per cent of all mobile traffic in India; and another report by KPMG says that 95 per cent of all video consumption in India is in regional languages.
While the first set of creators on YouTube had content in English and Hindi, and comedy was the most popular genre, the new set of creators is varied. They create in various Indian languages - Tamil, Telugu, Bengali, Marathi, Punjabi, Gujarati, etc - and in different genres - comedy, music, dance, food, beauty, lifestyle, education, technology, et al. Non-English creators are seeing a surge in subscriber levels.
Anaysa, fashion video blogger Shruti Anand's channel, has 4.7 million followers, which makes it the most-subscribed channel in the beauty and lifestyle category on YouTube in India. Shruti Anand and her husband Arjun Anand were not seeing much traction when they were making content in Hindi and English. They then decided to rename the channel and make content only in Hindi after they moved to India from the US in 2015. "We thought we should target the Hindi audience because that was one area where the content was not available," says Arjun. Currently, the channel is way ahead of counterparts with English content. Shruti's videos sometimes get as much as 21 million views. She also runs children's content and cooking channels on YouTube along with her husband, nine-year-old niece Anantya Anand and other family members. As their videos started getting more popular, her husband gave up his job and has taken this up as full-time career.
More Than a Hobby
T.S. Madaan is a life coach and motivational speaker, but different from the usual creators - he is 60 years old. The tech-savvy creator of eponymous channel, and his family - wife, son and daughter-in-law - are also engaged with his channel. Madaan, who comes from a business family, initially treated motivational speaking as a hobby, but financial troubles in the late 90s turned it into his profession. After the launch of their YouTube channel things took a turn for the better. The channel has over six million subscribers for its videos on motivation, health, and English language learning instructions. The revenue from Google AdSense is their primary means of income. According to Madaan, the family is able to generate a five-figure dollar income per month from the platform.
Individual creators spend less on production, and making money on Google is not a challenge. But with growing popularity of videos, more advertisers are coming to YouTube, making it a more lucrative option. In fact, a host of platforms apart from YouTube have emerged in India which also offer monetisation to video creators. Chinese platforms such as Vigo Video and Bigo Live are trying to tap regional audience, and have introduced monetisation for creators. On Vigo Video, a video social network owned by Chinese tech company Bytedance, one gets 'Flames' for uploading videos, shares, likes and comments. These can be converted to money, which can be transferred to e-wallets such as Paytm. Indian creators from Tier-II and Tier-III cities are active on these platforms and some popular creators have made as much as Rs 7-8 lakh in just six months from the platform.
Creators have three ways to earn from YouTube - signing up for Google AdSense; integrating brands in videos; and creating sponsored content for brands. It has become easier to make money in all the three ways.
"It has become easier to collaborate with brands because the hard work we did in the past two years to educate brands on how to generate returns from doing content marketing is paying off," says Ashwin Suresh, Founder, PocketAces, a digital content creation company that has properties such as Dice Media and FilterCopy. Many brands are now more inclined to experimenting as the consumer is getting younger, and new-age companies have to be smart about tapping the digital space, he says. Startups, tech, fashion and lifestyle companies in particular favour the online video method of advertising.
Most individual creators whom BT spoke with said their revenue from AdSense and brand engagements is 50:50. Content creation companies, which have big production budgets, have a higher share from brand engagements. While Google AdSense and brand integrations may suffice as income streams for individual creators, better models are needed for creator companies. Enter over the top, or OTT, platforms.
The OTT Play
When Nikhil Raibole started a channel in Marathi called Cafe Marathi on YouTube in 2016, he was ridiculed. Most people opined that while the concept could work for content like AIB or TVF, which address a wider audience, it would be difficult for a regional channel targeting niche audience to survive. The channel gained traction initially by generating vox pop videos. But the real uptick came when it released web series in Marathi on YouTube on unconventional topics such as live-in relationships (Lukkhe Landge) or selling condoms (Dotted Ki Flavoured). Along the way, it tied up with around 45 brands such as ITC, Tata Croma and Oyo Rooms for integrations, and earned from that.
Recently, Hungama Digital Media Entertainment contacted Cafe Marathi for content in the language as it planned to launch regional content in 10 languages on its OTT platform. One of the shows - Padded Ki Pushup, about the life of a newly married lingerie salesman - started airing on December 19. With this breakthrough, Raibole claims, the channel could soon be profitable as it gives the company a bigger stage and more monetisation options.
Earlier in the year, global OTT player Netflix tied up with PocketAces' Dice Media for content. The tie-up has expanded from just the material for Netflix's YouTube show called Little Things, to multiple shows. "Monetisation becomes easier with OTT platforms. There are writing big cheques and we can do genres that could not be done for brands," says Suresh of PocketAces.
OTT players other than Hungama and Netflix, too, are tapping the pool of regional creators.
According to Nachiket Pantvaidya, CEO, ALTBalaji and Group COO Balaji Telefilms, "About 80 per cent of our digital content is not produced by Balaji. It's made by producers outside of Balaji, like Endemol, SOL, Ding and Cine1, among many others. So, in fact, most of our production capacity is now being taken up by television and only 10 per cent of that is used to provide digital content for our platform."
A recent report by Boston Consulting Group states that the OTT market in India stands at $0.5 billion and is expected to grow to $5 billion by 2023. The number of players in the Indian OTT market has almost quadrupled in the past six years, from nine in 2012 to 32 in 2018. Most of them are tapping the regional language space, which is good news for local content creators. The report also reveals that OTT players invested heavily in original content in 2017. For instance, Hotstar invested an estimated Rs 4,000 crore, Netflix Rs 500-600 crore, Amazon Prime Rs 500 crore, Sony Liv Rs 400 crore, Eros Now Rs 400 crore and Alt Balaji Rs 120 crore.
Vishal Kumar Maheshwari, Country Head, Viu India, says when they launched their OTT app in 2016, they thought consumers would be metro-based and from high socio-economic classes. They were surprised. "Our target audience, which is quite young, is rapidly moving away from television due to gap in content. But that this started happening beyond the Chennais and the Coimbatores has come as a pleasant surprise to us," he says, adding that Viu is tying up with local creators.
One can expect the OTT market to expand further. "As more OTT platforms come, they will all want content... content creators are in high demand. A lot of content production houses are doing well," says Ashish Pherwani, Partner and M&E Advisor Leader, EY India.
Vying for Views
Does the emergence of OTT players pose a threat to YouTube? Most experts suggest that the growth will not impact YouTube for some time. "Digital is growing, and one of the reasons for that is videos. The growth (of OTT players) is not impacting YouTube as the entire pie is getting large," says Vishal Jacob, Vice President, Digital Media and Marketing, Wavemaker India, a media, content and tech agency.
The gap between OTT and YouTube viewership is wide. According to Comscore, YouTube had 254 million unique visitors in July 2018, while its nearest competitor Hotstar had 79 million unique visitors in the month. "YouTube is not used so much for longer form content, the kind you view on the OTTs. It is still growing because the base of consumers is growing so much. So YouTube will grow and will continue to grow for many years," says Pherwani of EY.
YouTube's large viewership base is a result of its content creator community. If they move to another site, especially due to better monetisation options, it could be a cause for concern. YouTube has started preparing for such an eventuality and may soon roll out a paid streaming subscription service, YouTube Premium, in India. It is also focussing on 'how to' or learning content.
At the end of the day, be it YouTube or an OTT platform, content, and its creators, will call the shots.