Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

Sticking to the basics always helps on YouTube

YouTube has been courting creators and playing an active part in their rise. We asked Satyanarayan Raghavan (Head of Content & Operations, YouTube India) a few questions

Published: Mar 2, 2015 06:01:15 AM IST
Updated: Mar 2, 2015 12:10:42 PM IST
Sticking to the basics always helps on YouTube
Satyanarayan Raghavan, Head of Content & Operations, YouTube India

Q. Could you share some figures on YouTube viewership in India?
As per comScore, YouTube has over 60 million unique users in India. While we don’t share hours of consumption by country, we can tell you that the consumption from mobile phones is growing rapidly and today almost 40 percent of consumption of YouTube is from mobile phones. Interestingly, the content-consumption pattern and time spent on desktop and mobile is also similar. The mobile platform kicked in the last year-and-a-half, and continues to drive growth. Affordable smartphones have really had a big impact on time spent on the Internet and YouTube is gaining from that.

Q. And the number of YouTube users with channels that are based out of India?

India is among the top five content countries for YouTube globally. Until about 3 years ago, the content was primarily from mainstream production houses and broadcast companies. But we are now seeing a lot of momentum in the made-for-web space, where native creators are coming on board and finding their audience online; and this is across genres.

Q. What has YouTube done in India, specifically, to widen its reach and adoption? And has that changed over time? Any specific recent and new plans you'd like to share?
Our big focus was on localising the content that is available on YouTube and to that end, we have worked hard to ensure that we have partnerships with all the leading content creators across the board, from Bollywood studios, production houses, leading TV channels and regional language content. We also focussed on cricket and brought the IPL live to YouTube.

Two years back we started our focus on independent creators, and we have ramped up our team significantly to help support the ecosystem. In spite of infrastructure challenges, YouTube has seen robust growth in India and we are now focusing on making YouTube more affordable and accessible across devices and on all kinds of networks. We have partnered with Tata Docomo to introduce a video data plan that offers users data packs which are on an average 35 to 40 percent cheaper than normal data packs.

Q. Does YouTube India partner users? In what way?

Our teams focus on helping independent partners understand the platform better: how to improve discovery of their content; how to build engagement and community. We run workshops—open to everyone and across the country—on how to shoot videos and build audience. Then, we hosted our first FanFest event in India this year and we are now running a program to promote some of the popular YouTube creators; these include hosting fan meet-and-greets, creator workshops and promotions through our social presence.

Q. On what basis does YouTube decide whom to partner?

Once video creators decide to monetise their video, they get initiated into the YouTube Partner Program, and ads start appearing overlaid or next to their videos. YouTube then splits the revenue generated by those ads with the partner, with the majority of the share going to the partner. Our teams provide support to anyone who writes in to us. We also reach out to creators when we find that their content has potential and they show commitment to the channel.

Q. What are the ingredients of a good YouTube video?
After all these years, it's difficult to answer what works on YouTube. Users are the best judge of that and our community decides what becomes popular and goes viral. However, sticking to the basics always helps on YouTube: a well-defined title, clear audio and video, proper labelling and tags. We also encourage creators to visit our creator hub ( where they can find rich insights and information.

Q. How important are production values? What time lengths seem to work best?
As long as the audio and video is clear, the community watches the video.  We don’t advocate use of high-quality production equipment; a lot of users start with videos shot from mobile or DSLRs from their homes and they seem to work really well.

Q. What are the genres that seem to best lend themselves to YouTube popularity?
In India, Bollywood and music and TV shows are the most watched categories, but YouTube's strength lies in offering a large audience who are looking for diverse genre of content. Cooking, tech blogging, beauty, health and fitness, educational videos and how to videos are the top categories in India.

Q. What, in your experience, makes for 'virality' on YouTube?

Wish we knew the secret sauce to this, but from our experience we can tell you that almost everyone who has tried making a viral video has failed. From our history, we know that cats and babies seem to work to some extent.

Q. And loyalty?

Consistency, frequency of videos and effort that the creators put in engaging their viewers through comments makes a lot of difference. AIB and TVF are two very good examples of these.

Q. Are individual users, 'civilians' so to speak, making money from YouTube directly? Or would you say it is primarily a fame engine?
There are hundreds of partners who are making six figures a year through advertising revenues; these include homemakers and college-going kids, and they are very happy with it. And there are some who have shot to instant fame and that has opened up new income opportunities for them. So creators use YouTube to meet different needs and passions. As the Internet user base grows in India, revenue potential will increase considerably for creators across genres.

Q. The majors in conventional media (TV, cinema) seem to be using YouTube quite a bit after initial hesitation. Could you share some numbers?
In the early years after our launch in India, we were focussed on bringing short-form entertaining content to our users; this included popular movie songs, short clips from movies, movie trailers etcetera. Our objective was to get traction with local content.

At first, Indian content producers engaged with us to get traction for their content in other mature markets. But as India’s user base touched 100 million, our partners realised the potential, and the scope to do long form content, 'catch-up TV content' became big as most households had one TV. 'Catch-up content' (on-demand content from popular TV shows) is a big hit, and today, all the major general entertainment channels are working with us and uploading content of their shows on YouTube; some do it immediately after a show goes on air, some do it the next day.

There is a business model for archived shows, and many of our Indian partners are now making their archived shows available on the web. Mahabharat is one example; and Colors* is doing extremely well with Comedy Nights with Kapil.

Content owners today realise that their viewer is living in the multiscreen world, with the division between TV, phone, PC and tablet quickly disappearing. Content that exists on just one device is diminishing and most devices are, or soon will be, IP-connected. And they want to ensure that they are present across all screens. We're helping them to acheive that.

* Colors is a channel owned by Network18, which publishes Forbes India.

(This story appears in the 06 March, 2015 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)