Move over, television. YouTube’s here
The best new shows being scripted today are on YouTube, says Nikhil Taneja
The story of the birth of The Viral Fever (TVF), one of India’s only two independently owned YouTube channels with over a million subscribers, is the stuff of legend among content creators. This is how it goes: Arunabh Kumar, founder and CEO of TVF, approached MTV to pitch a show called College Qtiyapa. The pitch went south; MTV turned it down. So Arunabh took another show, Rowdies, a piss take on MTV’s biggest show, Roadies, to that other great idea marketplace – YouTube. Rowdies went on to amass four million views (and counting).
That was three years ago, when YouTube in India was used primarily by broadcast and film studios to put out trailers, songs and, occasionally, TV content. When Rowdies went viral, it gave birth to a whole new medium of pop culture in India on YouTube. The video content-streaming site, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this year, has amassed 60 million unique subscribers in India (as per comScore), and is today, arguably, the prime source of entertainment consumption amongst the youth.
In an interview with Forbes, Satyanarayan Raghavan, YouTube India head of content and operations, said that in the last two years, India has climbed up into the top five content countries for YouTube globally. And a whole lot of it has to do with original content creators like TVF and All India Bakchod (AIB), as much as it has to do with youth channels like MTV India and Channel [V], struggling to stay relevant with tried-and-tested, ‘safe’ content.
Where the internet wins over TV, and even movies, for starters is that there’s no restriction on themes or genres. On the list of top 10 videos on YouTube India in 2014 was Bollywood Aam Aadmi Party, a TVF satire on politics, Alia Bhatt – Genius of the Year, an AIB satire on Bollywood. On TV channels, between saas-bahu shows and Splitsvilla, there’s simply no room to squeeze these clips in. And then there’s the ever-present threat of censorship. While TV channels are bulldozed into self-censorship by the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting and the independent Broadcasting Content Complaints Council (notable censored words on TV include sex, lesbian, gay, shit and beef), few such rules apply on YouTube.
Content-sharing websites like Buzzfeed and Scoopwhoop, which make discoverability of good and ‘viral’ content much easier, have also helped. Today, brands are queuing up to associate with AIB, TVF and other comedy groups like SnG Comedy and EIC, as well as individual talent like Kanan Gill and Aditi Mittal. An e-commerce portal has tied up with AIB for an undisclosed amount, while rumour has it that real estate site CommonFloor paid almost a crore to TVF for its original fiction series, Permanent Roommates, which has amassed around eight million views over just five episodes.
If the soldout YouTube Fan Fest this year, that saw thousands of screaming teenage fans go nuts over stars like Gill and Indo-Canadian Superwoman, is anything to go by, web series have broken the Indian internet. It may just be too late for youth TV to play catch up.