Spotlight Society

YouTube channels in regional languages are growing and how

Snapshot from Bharatiya Digital Party’s ‘Hogwart Yanche Navin Marathi Vidyalay’.  

“Hogwarts Navin Marathi Vidyalay, aai. They teach magic there. They also pay us to study — direct deposit to Gringotts, no need to link Aadhaar,” the curly-haired protagonist of BhaDiPa’s popular sketch ‘Hogwart Yanche Navin Marathi Vidyalay’ (If Hogwarts was a Marathi School) tells his mother. The sketch, which reimagines the Harry Potter series in a Marathi backdrop, is the brainchild of Bharatiya Digital Party, a Marathi-language channel known for comedy and music videos. With over 28 million views, BhaDiPa is just one of the burgeoning multitude of regional language channels that have become hugely successful on YouTube.

In December 2016, YouTube, identifying the potential of the country’s sizeable multilingual audience, introduced an option for users to discover and consume content in local languages.


“Today, there are over 230 million regional language users online, compared to 175 million English users,” says Satya Raghavan, Head of Entertainment of YouTube in India. “On an average, 40 million new users are coming online every year, and there has been a four-fold growth in rural internet users since 2012. These users are consuming a huge amount of video content. In fact, 95% of video consumption is in the vernacular,” says Raghavan.

Snapshot from Amit Bhadana YouTube channel.

Snapshot from Amit Bhadana YouTube channel.  

It was these enormous numbers that spurred BhaDiPa’s foray into YouTube, says Sarang Sathaye, one of the brains behind the brand.

Ditch the angrezi

Marathi, Bengali, Tamil and Telugu speakers will form 30% of the total regional language user base in the next three years, finds a KPMG Language report. However, Hindi continues to occupy the top spot. For instance, YouTuber Amit Bhadana’s Hindi channel, which hosts 52 videos — comedy sketches where heroes are mostly the underdogs, street-smart and good, with a humorous disregard for sophisticated, English-speaking babus — boasts of more than 10 million subscribers. Many of his videos have been viewed as many as 37 million times and his channel has garnered over half a billion views.

“I decided to make videos in Hindi because I felt most popular channels catered to urban audiences. Also, a lot of it wasn’t very family-friendly,” says Bhadana, a 24-year-old Delhi University graduate. “I wanted to do fun sketches in colloquial Hindi with people speaking like they normally do in small towns and cities.”

Snapshot from Jahnavi Dasetty’s ‘Mahathalli’.

Snapshot from Jahnavi Dasetty’s ‘Mahathalli’.  

During the early 2010s, the Internet in general and YouTube in particular were the strongholds of young, tech-savvy, middle-class consumers in India’s metros — and this was reflected in the content. For instance, comedy shows created for (and by) urbanites, like The Viral Fever’s ‘Permanent Roommates,’ a popular web series with an 8.6 rating in IMDb, about a couple who move in together before marriage. And the language was mostly Hinglish.

Regional languages can make a YouTube sketch hugely accessible, says actor and YouTuber Jahnavi Dasetty of the popular Telugu channel Mahathalli. “I was inspired by Superwoman’s style of unscripted sketches, and I wanted mine too to be very genuine. So if I am doing a sketch about a mother-daughter relationship, it would sound fake if my mother talked to me in English.” Speaking in her mother-tongue helped her bring more nuance to her sketches. “Writing in Telugu has helped me experiment with slang, like Rayalaseema or Telangana slang,” says Dasetty.

Instant rapport

Regional language channels also see vibrant creator-audience interactions and an instant rapport. Users also get to address challenges unique to a language, like the compatibility issues of a regional script on a particular brand of phone, or the replicability of a less accessible ingredient in a particular dish. Creators often receive requests for humorous sketches on community idiosyncrasies or festival-specific recipe suggestions.

Snapshot from Tamil Selvan’s ‘Tamil Tech’ channel.

Snapshot from Tamil Selvan’s ‘Tamil Tech’ channel.  

Tamil Selvan, who runs two technology channels — Tamil Tech in Tamil and HowiSiT in English — says he is focussing more on the Tamil channel as he gets a better response from that audience. They are more vocal and quick with criticism, mostly constructive, he says. “Whenever I make videos, I make sure I give correct information in pure Tamil,” he says. “Beyond app and gadget reviews, I have observed that there is a dedicated audience for useful everyday items like fingerprint locks.” Tamil Tech, like many of the popular regional language channels, sprang up around 2016 and gathered steam after the trending section for local languages was introduced. Equally important was the rise of first-time internet users in non-metro cities and villages driven by falling mobile data charges, growing internet and smartphone penetration, and improving digital literacy.


Where are the women?

It’s not all positive. According to Unicef’s The State of the World’s Children Report 2017, less than a third of India’s Internet users are women, and while YouTube India does not have a gender break-up of audiences for regional content, three of the four popular creators that I spoke to said their users are predominantly male.

Except Dasetty. She says 51% of her audience is female, and young women enjoy watching her videos with their mothers. “When I was young,” says Dasetty, “there was a popular Telugu show called Amrutham [about two middle-aged men running a small restaurant in Hyderabad, with an element of social commentary] that I used to watch religiously every Sunday with my family. And that is how I envision my viewers remembering my channel in future.”

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Printable version | May 8, 2021 4:34:59 PM |

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