INTERVIEW: YouTube India, Satya Raghavan

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With the country’s huge population and fast-growing internet and smartphone user base, YouTube has evolved into a major distribution platform for films and TV programming in India. It’s also home to India’s rising ranks of digital creators, including comedy channels such as All India Bakchod (AIB) and The Viral Fever (TVF).

Over the past few years, a growing number of Bollywood studios have been streaming their content in the AVOD window on YouTube, and are increasingly using the platform for the TVOD window. Shah Rukh Khan’s summer 2016 blockbuster Fan, produced by Yash Raj Films, was available on YouTube and other TVOD platforms six weeks after theatrical release and three months before it played on satellite TV.

Recognising its reach and convenience, Indian broadcasters, including SET, Zee and Viacom18, have been using YouTube as a catch-up service, making new TV episodes available shortly after broadcast. Certain shows, including comedian Kapil Sharma’s hugely popular show broadcast on SET, appear to have increased their audience engagement through streaming on YouTube.

When it comes to YouTube digital creators, categories like comedy, kids, lifestyle and cooking predominate in India, as they do in other parts of the world. There’s also a big focus on music videos, short films and more recently web series – reflecting India’s obsession with music and filmmaking. In December 2015, YouTube opened a creator space in Film City, Mumbai in partnership with film school Whistling Woods, which is drawing creators from across the country.

Satya Raghavan, YouTube India’s head of entertainment content, talks about the country’s most popular creators, how the global video giant has adapted to the Indian market and how Bollywood and South Indian studios have started using the platform.

How have you adapted YouTube to the Indian user experience?

Last year we felt that a lot of people were consuming tons of video, but using data is expensive; so we launched a feature where you can download video when you have wifi or a data connection, then consume it later. We’re seeing some fantastic user cases for that – people are offlining video and watching it on planes. We launched it in India and it’s now present in more than 70 countries, including the US. That was a moment of pride for us because it was designed for India and rolled out all over the world.

As Google we’re also launching wifi in Indian railway stations – we’re already in more than 100 stations in partnership with Railtel, which has already laid the fibre. So now we’re seeing people offlining content in stations and then consuming it on the train.

What share of digital advertising on video do you have in India?

We can’t reveal that number, but digital advertising is the fastest growing pie, and video is the fastest growing within that. We’re really excited about how advertisers are looking at YouTube. In the last couple of years there’s been a bunch of remarkable case studies. Working with Pepsi globally, we had a property called Crash The Superbowl where consumers could create their own Doritos ads for broadcast during the Superbowl. So in India we did Crash the IPL [Indian Premier League cricket] and got a bunch of YouTubers to create an ad for Pepsi. We reached out directly to young consumers who are also creators. That’s a great example of how brands are working very closely with the platform.

How do your Indian creators make money?

A lot of them make money directly through advertising. We have a very transparent revenue share – 55% of what we collect is shared back with the creators. With big creators like AIB and TVF, the minute they put out a video they get between 100,000 to a million views. Previously that kind of viewership only came for big movie trailers.

The other big trend is sponsorship and branded content. We have a whole lot of brands working with these creators to make branded videos that launch on the digital platform. We do a lot of matching, like Pepsi IPL, and we keep receiving many ad hoc briefs that we farm out to our creators. We had a very successful one this year with Hyundai where we worked with one of our MCNs to create an amazing video to help the launch of that car.

There are also cases where a comedy creator, for example, has a presence on YouTube and has built up 100,000 subscribers and then goes on to have sell-out shows because of that. So what you do online on YouTube, and how it helps you build your business, is at the heart of our success. We have 12 verticals – including endemic categories like comedy, music and lifestyle – which all have an entrenched business model where YouTube is at the heart of growing their business.

Do you help digital creators find these opportunities?

Absolutely, our model is a partnerships model. Our team consists of partner managers who work, not just with these big movie houses, so if we find out that you have a good singing voice we will put one of them behind you.

Lilly Singh

Who are biggest YouTube stars in India?

Lilly Singh is a vlogger based in Canada who is not just an Indian phenomenon but international. She comes to India to do YouTube FanFest and she’s electric when she performs. She’s built a business empire on the back of YouTube. Some of our biggest India-based creators are in the comedy space – AIB, TVF, Being Indian and East Indian Comedy.

In the kids space we have ChuChuTV, which is huge across the world as well as in India, and in the food category we have chefs like Vahchef [Sanjay Thumma] and Nisha Madhulika who are very popular. We have beauty bloggers like Sherry Shroff and some very good tech creators like Geeky Ranjit who has nearly 600,000 subs. In the music space we have artists like Sanam Puri who has over a million subs. These are all people who were broken by YouTube – they created their first videos for the platform.

Which other categories are strong?

Short films are quite a large segment – students and people who already work in the movie industry use YouTube to showcase their work because it can help them to get a big movie. It was only last year that one of our top directors, Sujoy Ghosh, made a short film, Ahalya, that went viral and now we have a whole lot of big names who want to do stuff on our platform.

Web series is another area where there’s a lot of excitement happening right now. Lots of brands are interested in being part of that content and people like TVF, Y-Films and Arre are in that space because it’s a great way to create high-quality product that is also backed by a brand.

Typically Indians are used to watching content that is delivered over a few episodes, so they’re used to consuming content like that. It also helps that these are topics that youth can relate to – they’re thinking about issues that are not necessarily on TV.

The first web series that really took off was TVF’s Permanent Roommates about a couple hunting for a home so they can move in together before marriage. That’s not necessarily a topic on the edge, but it did really well and set the trend. At the heart of what does well on YouTube is high-quality storytelling and that holds true whether you’re putting up a movie trailer, comedy sketch, web series or a short film.

Permanent Roommates

What is the breakdown by language of the user-generated content on Youtube India?

In the last couple of years we’ve seen that almost 30-40% of content coming on to the platform is in other Indian languages, primarily Tamil, Telugu, Bengali and Marathi. Now we’re seeing that same wave that we saw happening with Hindi and English content in some of those other languages as well – we have endemic creators doing comedy in Telugu and Bengali. If you look at the creator wave that started about two years ago – it tends to happens in waves where some of the big guys inspire some of the newer guys – and that same thing is happening across different languages.

And what is the breakdown of your users by device?

It’s around 55% mobile and growing. One year ago mobile was only 40%. That’s not just the Indian domestic user base but also the diaspora across the rest of the world. Around 60% of the viewership for our Indian partners is global, mostly in the US, UK, Middle East and parts of Asia.

How are the Bollywood studios using YouTube for marketing?

The platform works to amplify your presence – so if you look at traditional media we have these big studios that are uploading more than 30-50 videos before they launch a new film. The content typically includes trailers, songs, making-of and behind-the-scenes footage.

All of that drives footfalls to the theatres – there’s evidence that there’s a correlation between how well your videos do on YouTube to the ultimate box office collections. The Bollywood studios start uploading content between two to three months before the launch of a movie. South Indian studios are also starting to realise the power of the platform and will do it around two to three weeks before.

How does Youtube deal with censorship in India?

Our community guidelines are very detailed and available on our website. Much depends on the wisdom of the consumer. If they find content objectionable, they can flag it off and we then review. If the content is against our guidelines we take action. But basically we follow the law of the land.

The flipside of that is copyright. We have a strong content ID system, so the minute a movie is created in India, even before it’s in theatres, the studio can upload a file with a digital ID, so if that content goes up on YouTube unauthorised we can bring it down.

Most of India’s top studios have content ID and use it to control piracy. That liberates producers because they don’t have to worry about what happens on the country’s biggest platform because they have control over the process. Even without content ID you can issue a copyright takedown notice which is something we observe.


1. T-Series (music label)
Views This Month: 793,765,148
All-Time Views: 12.5bn

2. SET India (broadcaster)
Views This Month: 448,831,295
All-Time Views: 4.6bn

3. ChuChu TV (kids)
Views This Month: 333,314,136
All-Time Views: 6.6bn

4. Zee TV (broadcaster)
Views This Month: 265,275,122
All-Time Views: 6.4bn

5. Sony Music India (music label)
Views This Month: 233,938,549
All-Time Views: 2bn

6. Zee Music Company (music label)
Views This Month: 223,667,980
All-Time Views: 2.2bn

7. Yash Raj Films (film studio)
Views This Month: 181,076,190
All-Time Views: 2.6bn

8. Colors TV (broadcaster)
Views This Month: 162,743,590
All-Time Views: 2.5bn

9. Speed Records (record label)
Views This Month: 149,606,049
All-Time Views: 1.5bn

10. SAB TV (broadcaster)
Views This Month: 149,246,833
All-Time Views: 1.8bn

Source: Tubefilter