It was a Friday afternoon, a day before the big show. Visiting Bengaluru and four other Indian cities for the first time, the YouTube team was gearing up for its popular ‘Fanfest’.
An annual flagship event of the Google-owned company, the fanfest intends to bring creators - a term used for content contributors - closer to their fanbase with live shows.
At the White Orchid Convention Center in Bengaluru, the fanfest team navigated me backstage to Satya Raghavan, Entertainment Head of YouTube-India. Over the hour, he took me through the drill of putting together a show, and YouTube’s growth in India.
YouTube recently completed 10 years in India, its fastest-growing market globally. The video-sharing platform attracts more than 80 percent of India’s internet audience.
The fanfest format began in 2013, and gained popularity the very next year. The first performance at the newly-inaugurated Jio Garden in Mumbai saw 500-600 followers waiting for a glimpse of their favourite YouTube star. Over the next two years, Mumbai remained the host city, playing host to over 5,000 fans every year.
The YouTube fanfest is a celebration of the creator ecosytem, says Sathya.
In the first three years, we brought a lot of international artists, but in the fourth year, we wanted to make space for the Indian creators, which was so large in itself, he says.
When it started out, the fanfest only hosted international artists as the channel was sourcing content from traditional media such as TV shows, movies, news and sports. In 2014, the platform opened up for common users and while the concept was in its nascent stage in India, countries like the US had seen a multitude of internet users curating content. The same year saw the entry of native creators with AIB and TVF, says Sathya.
The class-of-2014, a term we fondly use for AIB, TVF and programmes like ‘Yena Rascala' down south, set a benchmark for internet consumption. The content was metro-centric, primarily in Hindi and English, and a few south Indian languages had started to emerge, he adds.
By 2015, all four south Indian languages - Kannada, Tamil, Telugu and Malayalam – saw a huge amount of content generation, with comedy, music and food being the key interest areas. Languages like Marathi, Punjabi, Gujarati and Bengali followed suit and YouTube also saw the rise of different kind of verticals and content creation with kids, beauty and tech being highly popular. By 2016-end, Youtube had a wide spectrum of content – from comedy to food. This phase also coincided with the internet data boom.
Jio - A blessing in disguise!
As Reliance Jio sought to make data and internet cheaper and more accessible in India, this move saw several digital platforms turning out as the beneficiaries, and YouTube was no different.
In 2017, the platform saw a 100 percent growth in viewership says Sathya. “Hindi emerged as one of the strongest languages even from smaller villages. By 2017, around 225 million internet-savvy audience marked their attendance in India out of 400 million+ internet users, of which 330 million were only on the smartphone.”
The audience poll
After hosting the fanfest in Mumbai for five years, YouTube decided to take the event to four other cities, and an audience poll decided which ones they would be. Bengaluru, Delhi, Hyderabad and Chennai were the chosen ones and India became the only country for YouTube to host five fanfests in a month.
It took the company six months to plan the working, sign up creators, listing down the venues and sponsors, and putting together the logistics.
After the experience in Mumbai, we decided to take a quantum jump in the number of cities we were hosting. Wherever a creator has a fan, YouTube wants to be the vehicle bringing them together. That was the only intent, but it has been six months of chaos, madness and brainstorming. In a nutshell, it’s been quite difficult, adds Satya.
A career out of YouTube
The telecom wars over the last few years saw the content ecosystem broadening and growing robust, which helped retain consumers. For YouTube, which is an advertisement-driven model, it was the perfect opportunity. More creators and content ideas joined in and the platform also took on offline gigs, concerts and guest appearances.
The revenue generated by Youtube through its advertising and from other streams are interlinked, says Sathya.
“Even the entertainment industry, like Bollywood, has started to use YouTube to promote movies even before they release. There is a certain dedicated corpus for it because movie-makers have realised that there is a strong correlation between the reaction here and the box-office numbers later. For example, Abish Mathew, who started as a comic character, has evolved into an individual comedian. He has a massive following, and has worked around shows, corporate events, gigs and content for other platforms. But the heart of his business continues to be on YouTube. Abish is one of the many such examples who have risen out of this platform.”
The lineup at the Bengaluru fest had Abish Mathew, Melvin Louis, Atul Khatri, Niharika NM, Jord Indian, Evam Stand-up Tamasha, SnG Comedy, Singhs Unplugged, Team Naach, Kirik Keerthi, Thaikudam Bridge with Kappa TV and Gurbax performing.
Most creators are celebrities in their own right, and are no less than a Hindi film star. “Look at the bouncers there,” points Sathya.
You will see the creators making videos on the spot, placing their talent and seeking feedback from their fans. YouTube is built with creators at the center of it.
Tapping rural roots
With Tier I cities experiencing internet first hand, and the advent of Reliance Jio and cheaper data from other cellular operators saw Tier II and Tier III cities joining the bandwagon. The year 2017 saw the entry of an interesting vertical - village food. Videos showed creators shooting their parents or grandparents cooking.
This led to a sense of nostalgia, and of course, was a surprise to us. For all that you know, YouTube might be hosting a fanfest only for the rural audience, laughs Satya.
The way forward
What started with two creators in India has today evolved into a community of 133 creators. Indian creators, who are on a meteoric rise with around 225 million monthly active users (MAUs) on mobile phones alone, YouTube is the gold standard for online video discovery and viewing. More so because of the many offers and cheap internet services.
With its 12 major vertices, clubbed under the five heads of TV shows, music labels, sports, movie studios, news, Youtube has also now made space for comedy, kids, food, women’s lifestyle (beauty, style, fashion), men’s lifestyle (tech, auto, gaming), music, web series, and short stories.
In 2018, which is following the adage of ‘videos are the next big thing’, entertainment, edutainment, infotainment and education will be the focus, says Satya.