India's Top 100 Digital Stars 2022 by Forbes India-INCA

Committed to introducing more revenue opportunities for our creators: YouTube's APAC regional director

In an exclusive interview with Storyboard18, Ajay Vidyasagar shares how the company is fuelling its creators ecosystem, new revenue channels and algorithm secrets

Published: Apr 6, 2022 05:30:31 PM IST
Updated: Apr 7, 2022 12:16:39 PM IST

Committed to introducing more revenue opportunities for our creators: YouTube's APAC regional directorAjay Vidyasagar, regional director, APAC, YouTube Partnerships

A few weeks ago, Alphabet-owned Youtube made heads turn with its report on the creator ecosystem. The report claimed that the YouTube creative ecosystem contributed Rs 6,800 crore to the Indian economy in 2020.

Here, Ajay Vidyasagar, regional director, APAC, YouTube Partnerships, breaks down the numbers for Storyboard18 as he sheds light on the changing trends in content and how India is now seeing content beyond Hindi and English. “The language of YouTube is truly your mother tongue,” he says.

Edited excerpts.

Q. The YouTube creative ecosystem contributed Rs 6,800 crore to the Indian economy in 2020 your recent report says. Can you explain how?

Traditionally content was either movies, news or music but when YouTube came in we created this phenomena of content creation. 25 percent of everything that sits on YouTube is great quality productions from large media companies followed by another 25 percent which is highly engaging music content from music companies and music creators and 50 percent of what we have on YouTube today is creator content in different formats and different genres. This community is growing and in the process generating a huge amount of economic value in India—not just for creators but also for businesses, employees, and consumers across the country.

A principal source of YouTube’s economic impact is the revenue the platform redistributes to its creators, which can include ad sales, payouts from eight alternative monetisation features such as channel memberships and Super Chat, and royalty payments paid to music and media companies. We refer to the profits and earnings of those creators as the YouTube ecosystem’s direct economic impact in India.

Q. Can you classify the top creator categories for us and which are the best performing ones? What percentage of Rs6800 crore was from regional creators?

Even as YouTube caters to one of the largest learner communities, we have seen the continued rise of genres like facts and knowledge-based channels, science and experiments. On the other hand, established genres continue to evolve. In 2021, gaming leveled up, emerging as a rich and diverse ground for storytelling and community building, with a notable presence across top creators, top breakout creators, top women breakout creators and even, top shorts creators. In fact, a five-hour long gaming livestream of the FreeFire World Series Final in 2021, became one of the most popular videos in India this year. Comedy as a genre continues to thrive with a broadening of its contours thanks to the emergence of new voices and formats. 

Lastly, we saw that creativity is no longer the bastion of urban creators and artists, with regional content, music and storytelling formats are fuelling new genres, from village cooking to regional VTubers i.e. avatar-based YouTubers. Telugu channels Filmymoji and Funmoji are scripting the rise to popularity of Animoji and avatar-based content. This content is popular because it is relatable and captures themes of everyday middle class life, but told in an innovative format. We saw the continued rise of Bhojpuri music with artists Ankush Raja and Shilpi Raj at the helm of the sub-culture as it continues to thrive across geographies.

Q. How does India compare when it comes to creator content both in terms of volume and revenue?

In 2019, we had over a thousand creators with a million subscribers in India, and today, we continue to see tremendous growth of this vibrant and established creator community.

Today, we have 4,000 creators with over 1 million subscribers—and this is growing by 50 percent year-over-year. Moreover, we have more than 40,000 creators that have over 100k subscribers in India. We have always recognised this potential in India and were the first company to invest in our creator focused outreach and accelerator efforts.

Q. Can you explain the revenue sharing model for independent creators on Youtube? How do you keep it different from the other platforms?

More than two million creators participate in YouTube Partner Programme (YPP) globally and many of them are in India. YPP lets qualifying creators tap into different ways to earn revenue from ads, YouTube Premium, and other revenue streams as well. We’ve sought to find new revenue streams that tap into the relationships between creators and fans to deliver extra value, such as Paid Digital Goods (Super Chat, Super Stickers and channel memberships).

We’re seeing success with all types and sizes of creators with our Merchandise feature right from Garden Up, who offers a niche gardening product line right to BB Ki Vines’ popular everyday streetwear merchandise. We’ve seen the impact of our new monetisation features during the pandemic—both on VOD and with Live which allows creators to connect with their fans in real time and offers monetisation through Super Chat and Super Stickers.

The number of YouTube channels making Rs1,00,000 or more in revenue is up over 60 percent, year-over-year. Moreover, we have seen a demonstrable impact of these revenue sources, with over 100 percent growth in creator revenue in India coming from features like Super Chat, Super Stickers, channel memberships and merchandise between February and May 2020.

Finding new ways to reward trusted creators financially and help them ramp up their businesses will always be a top priority for us.

Q. Various artists have been called out for buying views on the platform including some big Bollywood names. How do you address this issue?

We constantly keep looking at the platform, our algorithms and the overall signals that go into driving viewership and revenues. We also constantly keep innovating and tweaking our algorithms to ensure that there is no malpractice allowed.

So we constantly make changes to the algorithm engine, to the recommendation engine and to the suggestion engines. For the last 10 years, we've shifted the algorithm to focus on watch time and not views.

Q. What is the kind of growth short form video has brought to YouTube? And how does it stack up against other global and homegrown platforms' short video features?

What trends in India not just shapes the creative currency in India but also influences change across the world. It is why India was the first country where we launched YouTube Shorts. Today, Shorts has surpassed 5 trillion all-time views worldwide. We’re seeing an unparalleled diversity of content on Shorts and Indian creators using it in imaginative and creative new ways, even beyond dance and music to explore content in facts and motivation, gaming, comedy, cooking, beauty and technology. We’ll continue investing in Shorts and introducing new video effects and tools, like replying to comments by creating a Short.

Any new innovative or interesting ways brands are reconnecting and engaging with creators? And what are the new pain points on all sides—brands, creators, the platform?

Flipkart created fresh, never-before-seen content to build excitement and drive awareness and user engagement, during The Big Billion Days. It leveraged YouTube’s content creator ecosystem to produce a 10-episode game show, Big Billion Muqabla.

Similarly, UpGrad launched a series, BeYouNick X upGrad Originals The Office Canteen, which was hosted on BeYouNick’s channel on YouTube. UpGrad collaborated with BeYouNick aka Nick to create the three-episode comedy series also featuring eight other top creators.

Another example is iQOO that partnered with three leading streamers—Tanmay Bhat, Samay Raina and GamerFleet on YouTube via a streaming talent hunt IP called Raid Nights.

It is important for brands to apply rigor in understanding the challenge, defining their goals and objectives, and then bringing in creators and influencers strategically. This will make the campaign itself more effective and measuring impact more meaningful and efficient.

The same robust measurement tools that work for brand campaigns overall can also help measure influencer marketing outcomes since metrics such as awareness, recall or sales don’t change. Reach of the video, unique viewers, engagement are important metrics for brands.

Q. What are your expectations from 2022?

People have found real value from online video, and I think a lot of the shifts we saw over the past 2 years are long-term ones. 2021 was a solid year, it actually had a significant growth on top of 2020. It was an extraordinarily fertile year where creators actually started to unlock more value from monetisation and fan-funding avenues. The passion and ambition of our creators fuels us to continue innovating new ways to help them realize their goals and we are committed to introducing more revenue opportunities for our creators.

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