Chairman and Managing Director Bhushan Kumar and President – Marketing, Media & Publishing Vinod Bhanushali of T-Series in conversation with Team Box Office India as T-Series tops the chart at youtube
Box Office India (BOI): Congratulations! When did you learn that T-Series was the No 1 channel on YouTube?
Bhushan Kumar (BK): One or two weeks ago, through a YouTube newsletter! I actually found out about it from other people because we don’t get into the nitty-gritty of whether our channel is No 1 or not. And then the congratulatory messages just started coming in. For people in the digital world, it’s a very big deal. Our film industry considers YouTube their benchmark for many things. So messages started coming in from the industry and core digital people. That’s when we realised that it was a really big deal.
Vinod Bhanushali (VB): Especially with the youth… my daughter pointed it out to me. She said, ‘Dad you guys are No 1. Do you know what that means?’ It’s all about content, the rich content that T-Series has been making and producing for so many years, now all is in one place. Somebody also said we should be very proud because we have made India proud.
BK: When the news broke, we wanted to announce it but we felt it might look egoistic. But it’s a very big moment for us. When we did announce it, everyone was very positive.
BOI: Your success is not confined to India, it is now worldwide.
VB: T-Series YouTube is the only channel from India on the list. Of all the other channels from India, whether sports or other genres, none has made it to the global world level. As an Indian, you should be proud that an Indian channel has made it to the world map on YouTube, and is No 1.
BK: There is no limit to the number of channels online.
VB: Every hour, 72 hours of footage is uploaded to YouTube… 72 hours of content every hour!
BOI: How did the T-Series journey begin on YouTube?
BK: That happened six years ago. Initially, YouTube was a little like television. About 10 years ago, television was a promotional tool for music companies. We needed television channels to promote us so that our songs and cassettes and CDs would sell. When YouTube became big, the same thing happened. We didn’t know if revenue would be generated or not as it is a free platform for people to upload content.
Initially, we actually requested them to block our content as some things brought us revenue, while others didn’t. People were uploading T-Series songs all over the place and we were getting no revenue for most of it. Then we started our official channel and framed a deal to cover everything of ours that was being uploaded to YouTube, whether audio, audio-visual or anybody else using our property.
VB: Now, for instance, if you want to sing a song with visuals of yourself on your YouTube channel, the royalties for the song will come to us.
BK: We restricted everything. You can’t use even 5 seconds of one of our songs without sharing the revenue with us. That’s how the journey began, and then we started uploading our content to our official channel. We were the first to do this, and we have gone on to build the biggest subscriber base in India, with the highest number of views in the world. That’s a huge achievement.
BOI: With so much content uploaded, how do you track UGC content?
VB: YouTube has its own algorithm to do that.
BK: YouTube has a very strong system in which all the content of every company is mapped. When even a bit of a song that belongs to us is played, it automatically generates a match in their backend system.
VB: We had to ingest the content by following a specific methodology. Then, we had to match and simulate the audio. If even a part of it doesn’t match, then it’s not your audio.
BK: Today, we upload all our songs into their system as they are released.
VB: We have about 15 channels – T-Series Hindi, Punjabi, Gujarati, Marathi, Regional, Kannada, Tamil, Kids etc. It I all categorized and makes it much easier to search for a specific song.
BOI: Despite how successful you are, you have never thought of launching your own independent platform.
VB: Our YouTube channel has more than just music, it also has films and much more. It’s a search engine, actually. So we just concentrate on creating content. If you have great content, then this is a great platform for it. That is why Bhushanji always says that if a film song is a hit, it is our property and we should brand it as such. Once that’s done, then it filters down to television, radio and all the other mediums.
BK: It is not advisable to have an independent platform. Many music companies have attempted this but they have not succeeded. If I launch my own channel, then I obviously have to restrict the use of my content on other platforms, and the truth is that everybody goes to YouTube because people want to listen to a bouquet of different kinds of music, they want everything in one place. So if we aren’t on YouTube, they will just go to websites with pirated content for our music. That’s why it is not advisable to go it alone, digitally.
VB: What works is the song. If I want to listen to Selfie lele le re, Sanam re or Tum hi ho, all of which belong to T-Series, as a subscriber you even get notifications for new songs.
BK: For the listener, the song matters, not the platform it’s on. So it is ideal to be present on a platform where you can brand your identity without having to create your own platform. Also, with YouTube, we are able to reach our audience and we don’t have to pay.
VB: Ab technology hum ko bechegi. Also, we don’t have any carriage fees and we don’t have to take risks by creating something new.
BOI: What’s next for your brand? Do you want to make movies for the digital platform?
BK: Yes, we have plans for that too. We are making a web series. We are getting into Marathi films, Tamil films, Telugu films and Punjabi films. We have 11 Hindi releases this year, all of them content-driven films. We have locked 12 films with big stars like Akshay Kumar and Ajay Devgn, for which shooting will begin in a few months.
VB: I don’t think any studio has done this much in the last two decades.
BK: When we say ‘locked’, we mean we have locked the release dates and 50 per cent of the movies are complete. Some songs are left or mixing is left and work is ongoing.
BOI: How do the two businesses complement each other, music and film production?
BK: Very well, actually. Today, I am not dependent on outside film productions when creating music. Of course, we have our fixed banner-production collaborators, like Sajid Nadiadwala and Rakeshji’s (Rakesh Roshan) movies. Now, Viacom and Fox Star Studios are also doing films with us. That helps. Our music company is our first love, so most of our films are big on music. Look at the teaser for Raabta, it is a music-driven film, with seven or eight songs, and it will have a very strong album. Dinesh Vijan too has a good sense of music, so it’s a lethal combination of music and film.
Obviously, when you are making movies, you are able to serve your music label also by giving them great music, and when we are producing music we are making songs for that film, so we get a little leverage in terms of deciding what kinds of songs we’d like to include. When it’s not your film, there are many challenges because you are not creating the context, and others may not compromise even a little.
VB: Well, producers also know now that their content needs to be available on all platforms and all mediums, so they can’t be aloof. On song-streaming sites like Saavn and Gaana.com, they know their songs and dialogue promos will be promoted well. It’s almost like a distribution network. The reach has to be there. If it’s not available, it’s of no use.
BOI: Was business better before, with CDs and audio cassettes? Or is it better now?
BK: It is much, much better now.
VB: It’s convenient, actually.
BK: Earlier, you were physically selling something, today, it’s all paper deals. If I have to hand over some data, I simply put it on a pen drive or a hard drive, sign the papers, take the money and that’s it. The deal is done.
VB: The transportation, the sampling is all taken care of.
BOI: Now you have more time to produce films.
BK: Yes, but making music is also a very big challenge.
VB: Earlier, even transporting cassettes and CDs was a nightmare. Right from excise, everything was a challenge.
BOI: T-Series is known for its aggressive marketing and promotions. How does YouTube help you?
VB: Simple… with YouTube, we can reach 50 million subscribers instantly, at no cost. For instance, whenever we decide to make Aashiqui 3, we can generate interest based on Aashiqui and Aashiqui 2. On a television channel, it is a linear broadcast. Here, people can watch it whenever they please. It also helps us revive our catalogue.
And it’s not just YouTube. There are other digital platforms that are equally big and they also help engagement, which is not possible on YouTube. On platforms like Facebook and Saavn, we know how many people are listening. Earlier, we had to call our dealer and ask which cassettes were sold and we had to call 20 different places and ask which song people preferred. Now, all the numbers are visible. We can tell the age group, the target audience etc. If a song is not working, we can do something else.
BK: Today, the entire structure of business has changed. You can’t compare earlier times with these. I used to calculate how many cassettes we had sold and then only okay the weekly budget for promotions. Today, all the music you have goes out; all you have to do is upload it on the website. It’s so much easier to calculate returns too. Today, one can sell average songs on television channels etc, but quality music has long-term returns.
VB: Through the years, basically.
BOI: What more can we expect from T-series in the coming years?
VB: A lot of films and good content. We are also getting a lot of new talent.
BK: Just like we built up Armaan and Amaal Malik, and now Jubin Nautiyal, we are getting new artistes and promoting them.
VB: Genres of music also. In the ’90s, there were only two genres – ghazals and film songs. Now there is sad romantic, sad songs, songs on life, and there’s inspirational songs. There are new things coming up; 11 films with a total of about 55 songs, and another 50 songs for other production houses.
BOI: Recently, you recreated old songs with actors like Hrithik Roshan. What was the idea behind that?
BK: There are many old songs which were super-hits in their time, that youngsters of today have never heard. For instance, we used the song Tumhe apna banane ka junoon sar pe hai in Hate Story 3, and many people, even in our office, didn’t know it was a song from Sadak.
That made me think, why not recreate old songs, and now everyone is doing it. I was at a party and the remixed version of Tumhe apna banane was playing. It is hard to imagine an old romantic song like that becoming a dance number, but it worked. And it gives the old classic a new audience.
VB: The composition and lyrics were very strong, in those days.
BK: You don’t get composition like that today. The melodies still work. The sweetness of the song remains. People want music they can hum, and that’s exactly what these songs deliver. Combine that with today’s youthful singers and all of it works together. It is very important to recreate it right, though. That is key.
VB: (Cuts in) Kya achche khaase gaane ki… The music you hear at Sunburn etc… there is no language to it, and this style is now coming to Hindi music. The biggest song on YouTube will be Dheere dheere, non-film songs or Hindi film songs… 200 million hits.
BOI: Are you planning to collaborate with international artistes?
VB: Yes, this year.
BOI: Now that you are No 1 on YouTube, are you planning to start any music-themed reality shows on that platform?
BK: We were thinking about it.
VB: Yes, but we dropped the idea. We cannot force contestants to sing only T-Series’ songs, and other companies will not allow us to use their songs on a T-Series channel, due to copyright issues. We are happy just charging people who are doing reality shows and using our music. (Laughs)