Inside the Most Watched YouTube Channel in the World
T-Series is not just India’s largest record label, it is also the most watched YouTube channel. From its humble origins as record label flogging cheap music cassettes in the 1980s, it has risen to become a media powerhouse which also produces some of Bollywood’s most successful movies.
T-Series YouTube ascendancy has no parallel: “The ascent of T-Series, which has 117 million subscribers to its primary feed, caught many off guard. YouTube has been dominated by pranksters, vloggers, and beauty queens from the U.S. and Europe. No professional media producer, let alone one from Asia, had ever held the top spot. But thanks to low-cost broadband access, India is now the largest source of consumers on the open web, with more than 600 million people online. (China has more internet users, but they generally stay behind the walls of its sealed-off digital ecosystem.) And that still represents a market in its infancy—about half of India’s population doesn’t yet have internet access.
Eager to cash in, Netflix, Facebook, and Amazon are all pouring resources into India and introducing products there before rolling them out elsewhere. In July, Netflix Inc. chose India to offer its first mobile-only subscription, an option that will be critical to unlocking emerging markets. Facebook wants to use the country as a test bed for payments via WhatsApp.”
Bhushan Kumar, the T-Series boss, believes that he can partner with the global giants who have entered India eager for a slice of the action:“Kumar argues that T-Series has no reason to fear this invasion, and not just because it sits behind a moat filled with more than 200 million YouTube subscribers….He envisions a self-reinforcing ecosystem where his YouTube channels promote his songs, his songs promote his movies and digital TV series, and when those become hits, people go back to YouTube to listen to the songs again and again, putting T-Series in an unassailable position.”
If Bhushan Kumar does pull this off, he will be following in the footsteps of his father, the fruit juice seller turned media baron, Gulshan Kumar, who almost single handedly commercialised Indian film music in the late 80s:“Gulshan’s distribution network put him in an excellent position to get into Bollywood soundtrack production, and in the mid-1980s he founded T-Series—the “T” an homage to the god Shiva, who’s usually depicted carrying a trident. In 1990 the label catapulted itself to the top ranks of the industry by releasing the soundtrack for the musical romance Aashiqui, which remains a bestseller. Gulshan also began aggressively snapping up the rights to Bollywood soundtracks T-Series hadn’t put together; film producers were often happy to part with them, since the company’s marketing footprint increased the odds a song would become a hit and drive box office sales.”
His father’s rapid ascendancy in post-1991 India has clearly given Bhushan Kumar a nose for disruptive moves:“T-Series uploaded its first YouTube video, the peppy dance number Laung Da Lashkara, in 2011, just as ringtone sales were tailing off. It featured the stars of the film Patiala House, Akshay Kumar and Anushka Sharma, cavorting in full Indian formal wear through a chandeliered ballroom, accompanied by troupes of backup dancers in turbans. Like a final transmission from an era that was about to disappear forever, it included an SMS code in the description below the frame, inviting viewers to set the song as their ringtone. The video was a hit, and it marked the beginning of an all-in bet on YouTube at a time when most record labels, whether in Santa Monica or Mumbai, still viewed it as an annoyance at best. T-Series immediately got to work uploading its entire catalog, available for free to anyone who wanted to watch.” T-Series hasn’t looked back ever since.