Illustration: Rahul Awasthi
With over 154 million subscribers, the most-subscribed channel on YouTube, T-Series, is from India.
According to multiple reports, India is also the second-biggest market for YouTube after the US, both in terms of views and subscribers.
Both these feats validate India’s “next billion users” narrative bandied about by many new-economy evangelists.
What this thesis overlooks, though, is that big numbers don’t count for much unless they also yield big results.
Recently, a financial insights hub called Top Dollar published a report on the top YouTubers from every country and their estimated earnings from the platform. Among other things, it makes one take a hard look at the efficacy of the big numbers we harp on.
As per this report, Ajey Nagar, popular comedy content creator and gamer, is the top individual YouTuber from India.
Currently, Nagar has more than 25.7 million subscribers on his channel CarryMinati. The report also estimates his monthly income from the platform at around $66,100. This does not include income from corporate sponsorships, merchandise sale, or fan donations.
However, Nagar lags far behind the top YouTubers of several countries both in terms of earnings and subscriber count.
From the top
Top YouTubers of at least seven countries — England, USA, Mexico, Chile, Brazil, Spain, and El Salvador — outrank Nagar on subscriber count even though most of these markets have less than one-tenth of India’s population.
Take Felix Kjellberg, alias PewDiePie, the top YouTuber from England, for instance. At 107 million, the Sweden-born and Brighton-based comedian and gamer has four times as many subscribers as Nagar. Luis Alvarado, known as Fernanfloo on his Spanish YouTube channel with almost 38 million subscribers, is the top YouTuber from El Salvador, the smallest country in Central America with a population of about 6 million as of 2018.
The higher subscriber numbers of top YouTubers from the US and England could be attributed to the fact that they cater to the English-speaking audience — there are over 1.1 billion English speakers in the world as against 615 million people who speak Hindi, as per latest data from Ethnologue, a research publication with a database of over 7,000 languages in the world.
However, language may not entirely be the reason the Spanish channels of top YouTubers from Mexico, Chile, Spain, and El Salvador have more subscribers than Nagar. Ethnologue numbers indicate that there are 534 million Spanish speakers in the world.
Perhaps it is to do with the fact that the trend of YouTube uploading started a little late in India, says Prince Khanna, cofounder of influencer marketing firm Eleve Media.
“Six years ago, there were only two YouTube channels with more than 1 million subscribers – AIB and TVF. Today, there are more than 1700 Indian YouTube channels with more than 1 million subscribers. We are still catching the competition very well,” Khanna adds.
Regardless, it is Nagar’s YouTube earnings — $66,100 a month — that fare rather poorly when stacked against popular content creators from other countries.
Top YouTubers of at least 71 countries make more money than Nagar makes off YouTube ads.
Just how much more, you ask?
Anastasia Radzinskaya, the top YouTuber from the United States, makes approximately $7 million a month from YouTube revenue for her kids channel Like Nastya.
Top YouTubers from India’s neighbouring countries such as Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Bangladesh, running channels titled Apé Amma, Kitchen with Amna, and Farjana Drawing Academy, respectively, earn between $95,000 and $225,000 monthly from YouTube even with a fraction of Nagar’s subscriber base.
Nagar tells us the report by Top Dollar does not accurately represent his earnings from YouTube, but declines to disclose the numbers himself. YouTube did not comment when contacted by ET.
Deepak Char, Nagar’s brother and business manager, does give some context.
The rates for CPM (cost per thousand impressions) on YouTube vary from country to country, he says. The region, the reach, the frequency of posting videos, the type of advertisers interested in the content, the video‘s watch time and viewer demographic are the reasons he cites for this disparity between CPM.
According to the data Top Dollar collated from multiple sources, India’s CPM rates on YouTube are 1/25th that of many of the 71 countries whose top YouTubers earn more off YouTube than Nagar. See here for reference.
The lower depths
The reasons for this abysmally low rate, many influencer marketing agents say, could be plenty: fewer number of advertisers in relation to the number of creators, tiny digital advertising budgets, or simply a poorly planned and targeted digital media plan managed by a media agency that has undercut its margins just to bag an advertiser’s account and grow its clout/clientele.
It’s a mystery a lot of poeple are trying to solve, it would seem.
On Google, the search results for “Why the CPM rates are so low in India” throw five times as many results in under a minute as the search results for “Whatever happened to Amelia Earhart”…
“Despite the illusions of it being the quickest way to build wealth, making money on YouTube is much harder than the numbers suggest,” says Char.
Advertising is inefficient as a business model on YouTube, he points out.
“Of late, traffic on YouTube has been surging due to the Covid-19 pandemic, but it’s not translating into parallel revenue creation for creators because companies who generally advertise on YouTube are pausing their ad spends owing to the rapidly changing consumer landscape,” Char explains.
Creators fret over this but many have almost given up. They don’t focus on YouTube ads for monetisation anymore, says Lakshmi Balasubramanian, cofounder of influencer marketing firm Greenroom. Many top league content creators charge anywhere between Rs 10-12 lakh per branded content video published on YouTube. Add to it another few lakhs for cross-posting the same video onto their Instagram account.
While this practice works for the top tier creators, brand deals don’t come in droves to the rest. So, YouTube revenue becomes significant for them.
To that end, seeing the lower earnings and a relatively lower subscriber base compared to top YouTubers from other countries can prompt a few creators to grow their audience base to include international users — not everyone knows that an international audience also brings in ad dollars as per CPM rates of their location.
Anirudh Nagpal, cofounder of Ebullient Gaming India, sees traces of this happening already with some of the creators, like Bhuvan Bam, doing cross-border collaborations. “A lot depends on creator’s mindset as well,” says Nagpal. “Some are driven to become India’s biggest creator while others aspire to be the next PewDiePie.”
For quite some time now, Ranveer Allahbadia of @BeerBiceps fame has been focusing on the English-speaking audience for his infotainment content across platforms. Allahbadia is also the cofounder of Monk Entertainment, a Mumbai-based talent management and influencer marketing firm.
Viraj Sheth, his business partner at the firm, tells us that this focus on English content has helped increase their income indeed. “But not because of YouTube ads, even though 15% of our audience comes from outside India now. It’s because we’re one of the few English channels from the country that some brands find suitable for targeting their premium audience,” he explains.
No one has mastered the game, yet, Sheth adds.
For content creators at the moment, all the digital world’s a stage. Everyone’s still doing dress rehearsal.