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India’s YouTube stars: The most popular entertainers on the video sharing platform

Enter Amit Bhadana’s office in Noida, Uttar Pradesh, and you are greeted with posters of comedian Charlie Chaplin and freedom fighter Bhagat Singh sitting alongside each other. Bhadana, casually attired in sweatpants, sweatshirt and flip-flops, is India’s most subscribed YouTuber. With over 13 million followers, mostly from the country’s Tier II and III cities, Bhadana is the new kid on the block, his videos in UP-style Hindi picking him fans from Punjab to Assam.

Picking nuances from the everyday hustle-bustle of city life, his videos feature a wide spectrum of subjects — from tongue-in-cheek sketches of Indian sibling interactions, to the hilarious and harrowing experience of boarding a bus in India, to even rapping about his success. In just over a year, Bhadana has featured in YouTube’s Global Top 10 Videos of 2018, a list that was topped by Kylie Jenner’s pregnancy announcement, and he won the Best YouTuber title at the Dada Saheb Phalke International Film Festival in Mumbai.

Though he’s at number one now, it was Bhuvan Bam, the face of BB Ki Vines, who first reached the 10 million subscriber mark in the entertainment category. Over 12 million subscribers and 1.2 billion views later, he’s currently a close second to Bhadana.

The big earners

In June 2015, 21-year-old Bam uploaded his first comedy video on Facebook. It garnered a grand total of 15 views. This wasn’t the first time he was uploading videos online. As a musician, Bam regularly sang retro Hindi hits in New Delhi’s bars and would upload show recordings on his YouTube channel. “None of those videos ever monetised,” he says. With copyright claims filed by music businesses on his content, earnings, if any, would go to the record label.

“After my first video on Facebook, friends suggested I better not waste the content on my timeline alone. I started a fan page and named it BB Ki Vines.” Each clip was a 30- to 40-second compilation of vines that he scripted and shot himself with a handheld cellphone camera. He played a motley group of characters, and used multiple props. These videos resonated with the audience, and circulated widely as WhatsApp forwards. By 2016, BB Ki Vines became a household name.

“A friend recommended that I upload these clips on YouTube so I could monetise them,” Bam says. His first cheque, of ₹25,000, came in three months after the creation of his channel. Today, he says he brings home ₹3-4 lakh every month on an average of two videos a month. This is just his earnings on clicks per thousand view — a rate that is fixed by YouTube for each country. Added to this are revenue from advertisements, branded collaborations, stage shows, promotions on other platforms, collaborations with other stars on YouTube. While Bam did not divulge his total earnings, according to advertisement revenue analysis website Social Blade, a top Indian YouTuber earns anywhere between ₹30 lakh to ₹ 1crore a month, on an average of two video uploads.

Language of the people

The networking benefits of being a top YouTuber is immense. Bam, who won the WebTV Asia award for Most Popular Indian Channel in Seoul, South Korea in 2016, has collaborated with stars from Bollywood, the international adult film industry and the YouTube international community. These include Shah Rukh Khan, Priyanka Chopra and Varun Dhawan from the Hindi film world, adult film actor and director Johnny Sins, and one of the world’s highest paid YouTubers, Superwoman (Lilly Singh). The fame allowed him to extend his popular ‘Titu Mama’ character into a talk-show spin-off where he interviews celebrities. This debuted with Shah Rukh Khan. “When I was narrating the script to Shah Rukh sir, I felt I’d done something in my life.”

It brought Bam a step closer in his ambition to be part of the Hindi film industry. “I want BB Ki Vines to be the Dharma Productions of YouTube,” he says. His venture, BB Ki Vines Productions, has shot and produced short films, original music and sketches for YouTube under the parent channel ‘BB Ki Vines’. Bam’s debut film, Plus Minus, co-produced by Guneet Monga of Sikhya Entertainment, his original music compositions and sketches are all part of BB Ki Vines Productions.

Despite an enormous fan following, both Bam and Bhadana continue to write their content themselves. Bam is a one-man-army, handling pre-production, scripting, acting, shooting and editing all on his phone for the BB Ki Vine sketches. Since he plays all the characters himself and has retained the same set from his first comedy sketch, there is a sense of familiarity in his videos. His new segment, ‘Titu Talks’, and music videos are exceptions, where he indulges in studio production in constructed sets with high-quality camera equipment. Bhadana largely shoots in controlled situations inside sets, operated by his agency Brandzup Media, but retains complete control on the edit table.

Bhadana believes that language has played a crucial role in his popularity. He uses only Hindi, with a liberal dose of UP slang. For an audience from UP, he explains, it is as if their language is being spoken on a platform that has the potential to take it to a global level. “My fans insist they just want to hear me talk because they feel at home when I speak.”

Bam’s usage of cuss words and double entendre would make the viewer think twice before streaming the content in a public gathering, but he insists it is not offensive. “The language is best described as slang,” he says. This is creative parameter that allows him to bypass YouTube filters and monetise his videos. YouTube filters prevent creators from using the platform to highlight or glorify sexually charged content, harassment, bullying, racism and sexism, among other things. Among professional YouTubers then, attention is paid to the script to make sure it doesn’t cross the line. “My content is clean. I do not talk about smoking pot, cigarettes or drinking alcohol,” Bhadana says.

Creating a brand

And there’s an entire team to ensure this. The burgeoning economy on digital platforms has given rise to brand consultants and marketing agencies who focus on ‘influence marketing strategies’ and offer guidance to YouTubers. Brandzup Media, under the aegis of Video Creators of India (VCOI), runs a full-service influence marketing agency and is responsible for top Indian YouTubers such as Amit Bhadana, Harsh Beniwal and Elvish Yadav. “We approached him (Bhadana) in May 2018 when he had under 20,000 subscribers and in under four months, he hit a million subscribers on YouTube,” says Dheeraj Jorwal, founder of VCOI.

They provide all-round grooming of upcoming YouTubers, work to spike their subscriber list and channel views, supervise shoots and suggest changes to the script. Rohit Raj, who has been managing Bam since the inception of his YouTube channel, says, “I’ve been the gatekeeper of the content with the brands. It prevents his content from being a complete sell-out.”

While there is no definite formula to becoming a top-earning YouTuber, both these creators identify content as an important variable. Bhadana’s buzzword is “relatable content”. With over 44 million views, his video “Types of People in a Bus”, where he performs a compilation of mini-comedy sketches on the experiences of an average Indian public transport user, clearly touched a chord.

Reliance Jio’s entry, with its affordability, allowed Indians in Tier II and III cities to invest in smartphones with steady internet connection to stream content. Still, there was a visibly large gap in digital content being made for this section. “Television is a static form of entertainment and YouTube (on the internet) provides content on the go. Naturally, there’s an equal demand for both in this day and age,” explains Bhadana. He consciously chose people here as his target audience. It has worked, and how.

The writer and researcher is based in New Delhi.


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Printable version | Jun 21, 2021 7:48:33 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/indias-youtube-stars-the-most-popular-entertainers-on-the-video-sharing-platform/article26467855.ece

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