Radhakrishnan RamachandranPublished: 7 Apr 2015, 12:00 AM
Guest Article

The Next Bunch of YouTube Stars will be from small town India...

says Radhakrishnan Ramachandran, founder & CEO of Pepper Media.

Overheard in the office canteen: "Why is it that my stories aren't getting those 10,000 + shares? And I've been pegging away so patiently at pieces on sports, supposedly the mother of all genres. Look at her - she just wrote up something about her favourite Malayalam movies. Lo and behold, the story has gone viral. Chief, my next story's going to be on my favourite Marathi dishes."

The Next Bunch of YouTube Stars will be from small town India...
Context: India Syndicate, a company I co-founded, had just launched Folomojo.com, a new digital media product that we believe has the potential to make it really big.

The underlying message has been quite clear to me for a while. There is a dearth of good local content, stories that cater to regional aspirations and cover topics of regional interest. It's not difficult to figure out the reasons. Internet penetration has always been higher in some areas, especially in the four south Indian states, and the national media has continuously overlooked them.

This is even more apparent when it comes to online video content. As someone who has been in the online video space since 2007, I've seen how regional languages rule platforms like YouTube. Betting on regional content catapulted us into becoming one of the largest partners of YouTube, way back in 2009-10. The story was not very different when we launched iStream.com: we had content from over seven languages and that brought us the numbers once more.

Cut to the present when we're trying to build one of India's largest multi-channel networks at Pepper Media. Yet again, I believe that it is local and regional language content that will fuel our growth; topped by a strong creator network, which can address these audiences.

No doubt, the task is daunting. Building such a large creator network from the smaller cities and towns, and co-creating content along with the new people coming on board will be a challenge for my creative team, many of whom have worked in mainstream TV networks, handling primarily English language programming.

But that is the need of the hour. That is where the gap is, and that is the space that both audiences and - consequently - brands are increasingly focussing on. With geo-targeted advertising picking up and digital platforms acting as the catalyst, many media buyers are asking for sticky regional content.

And numbers don't lie. One of our partner networks, a Malayalam GEC that is not even among the top three networks in Kerala, has over 5 million monthly video views. This is bigger than, or at par with, the figures of some of the leading English/Hindi news channels on YouTube.

That is what platforms like YouTube aim to be - truly democratic, bringing in more and more content creators from across the country and reaching out to a wider audience.

Yes, Bollywood and cricket will continue to rule the roost on digital platforms.

Yes, the first 1 million subscriber channels from India with original programming on YouTube may still be mainstream.

Of course, quality of content and cool concepts will hold the key. Having worked with local creators and seen their creativity up close, I can bet some of the future blockbuster channels on YouTube will be the ones powered by superstar creators from the smaller cities, and most likely in regional languages.

By the way, that story on Marathi cuisine topped the charts on Folomojo. Last heard, the editorial team was fighting over interesting local topics to be able to churn out the next chartbuster!

Update: By the time I wrote this article, we had a new winner - a story on India's New Daughters - featuring a village in Rajasthan.

(The author is founder and CEO of Pepper Media, a digital media company, backed by the founders of iStream.com)