The rising popularity of Tamil YouTube

YouTube creators at the Pop-UP space in Chennai   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

We have all watched Elon Musk’s SpaceX defy the laws of logic with its innovating concepts like reusable boosters (the ones that return to land after launching a rocket instead of diving into the sea).

But what if someone told you the basic principle behind this technology is similar to balancing a stick on your index finger (aligning the object’s mass in line with its centre of gravity)?

Breaking down complex concepts into easily graspable bits of science in the Tamil language is what Premanand Sethurajan’s YouTube channel, Let’s Make Engineering Simple (LMES), is adept at. When he started on YouTube, almost five years ago, videos by LMES hardly received 100 views. Today, the average viewership is upwards of 1.5 lakh. At over 9 lakh users, the channel’s subscription base too has grown substantially.

The case is similar with Nakkalites, a popular Tamil language entertainment channel on YouTube. Founded by Prasanna Balachandran and 27-year-old visual communication graduate, Rajeshwar K, Nakkalites currently boast a subscription count north of two million. Almost all of their videos earn an average views count of one million.

Big bang model

The immense growth in popularity of Tamil language YouTube channels has not gone unnoticed by the California-based video sharing platform, which recently organised a YouTube Pop-Up space in Chennai, where it invited hundreds of content creators to collaborate and create videos while sharing information on their processes. “In 2018, we had only 30 Tamil creators who had crossed the one-million subscriber mark, but in less than a year, this number has grown to 94,” says Satya Raghavan, director, YouTube content partnerships.

(extreme left) Satya Raghavan, director, YouTube content partnerships, with Tamil language YouTube content creators

(extreme left) Satya Raghavan, director, YouTube content partnerships, with Tamil language YouTube content creators   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement


“Through Pop-Up, we want to continue to invest in growth of creators and handhold aspiring ones to learn from the creator community,” he adds. LMES was not a direct beneficiary of Pop-Up spaces through its formative years, but, adds Premanand, the event allows content creators like him to meet new people, and even opens up cross-collaboration opportunities.

While one of YouTube’s revenue share models suggests that it splits 55% of advertising revenue with creators, channels like LMES have now outgrown the platform. “I cannot sustain the company with just the ad-share revenue model from YouTube,” says Premanand, who has recently launched a learning app and hosts workshops and events in collaboration with schools and other educational institutions.

Nakkalites, too, has organically managed to grow to a level where it can resist corporate overtures, the kind that saw channels like Put Chutney being absorbed into content creation umbrella firms like Culture Machine. “We have received a lot of investment opportunities over the years but we turned them all away because we cannot work with complete freedom once we enter into such an arrangement,” explains Rajeshwar.

YouTube creators at the Pop-UP space in Chennai

YouTube creators at the Pop-UP space in Chennai   | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement


And that has been the key for their growth. Nakkalites boasts a family audience for its content, and grabs eyeballs for videos that are “rooted to reality and has a regional flavour,” Rajeshwar adds.

New world order

The four-day event saw more than 500 content creators participate, of which, says Raghavan, more than 50% were non-Chennaiites, pointing at the significance of Internet penetration in tier-II and tier-III cities as well as in rural Tamil Nadu. “With every passing year, newer cities have emerged as centres of excellence. Content in languages like Tamil, Telugu and Malayalam are doing really well,” he adds.

Big Data
  • Of the 460 million Internet users in India in 2019, at least 265 million visit or access YouTube on a monthly basis.
  • India adds nearly 40 million new Internet users every year. All of them are expected to log on to YouTube at least once after going online; of these, more than 60% of the new users are not located in India’s six metropolitan cities.
  • There are 1,200 Indian channels with over one million subscribers. Of these, 120 channels are run by women content creators.
  • There are 94 Tamil channels at the moment, with over one million subscribers each. As many as 1,250 Tamil channels have between 1,00,000 and one million subscribers.

The possibility of increased engagement via YouTube also reflects in standard practices adopted by Tamil cinema as well. For over a year now, filmmakers have attempted the two or three-trailer strategy, as Raghavan puts it, where the producers create buzz on social media platforms through motion posters, teasers and trailers uploaded to YouTube. “The engagement that our movie partners get on their trailers has a high correlation with their box office yields,” he adds.

There is, of course, an element of misuse (with fake or misleading content) that comes into play when both the platform and the supply chain grows exponentially and at a much faster rate. The problem of fake or misleading content is an issue, especially when such content can reach and influence Internet-empowered new age citizens of this country, who would be going online for the first time in 2020 and beyond. More than hate speech or the inclusion of profanity, it is the whataboutery in such content — something that channels like Premanand’s have been waging a battle against — that can undermine the growth of Tamil language content.

“YouTube’s genesis is that it is an open platform. Our thing is not about censorship. Having said that, we have very strong community guidelines, and we also work with the respective Governments to maintain the law of the land,” Raghavan adds.

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Printable version | Dec 5, 2021 5:03:15 PM |

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