What was supposed to be an animated lullaby, went on to become one of YouTube's top sensations. Vinoth Chandar, the software engineer who composed the lullaby and is the man driving ChuChu TV's wheels, shrugs it off.
He reveals that his idea was merely to entertain his daughter Harshita, who he fondly calls ‘ChuChu’, but by 2017, his channel was a popular YouTube sensation.
Chandar is the man who has clocked over 12 million subscribers and 11.13 billion views on his YouTube channel. The popularity among his viewers is incomparable even to that commanded by the likes of Shakira or Beyonce. For the record, AR Rahman's official channel has only gathered 13 million views, while Chandar’s first video, ‘Johnny Johhny Yes Papa’ has itself been watched 1.2 billion times.
Music comes naturally to Chandar. His father is the famous Tamil composer Chandrabose, who composed scores for over 300 movies, some of them even for the legendary Rajnikanth. Chandar’s compositions- Twinkle Twinkle little star, Mary had a little lamb, Wheels on the Bus go round and round - are all red-hot YouTube favourites.
The CEO and Creative Director at ChuChu Tv, a made-in-India product, details the nitty-gritties and future plans from this C-scaled business in a conversation with Sify.com's Sairaj Iyer. Here are edited excerpts from the interaction.
It sometimes becomes difficult to trace how much you have grown given the fact that you are adding subscribers at a breakneck pace now. Tell us the official record of where you stand as on date?
Our 50 channels together add up to 12 million subscribers, with a watch time beyond 1.5 billion minutes per month, which percolates into 4 minutes per user on an average. Third week of September alone we crossed 20-30 million views on 6-7 videos.
Which video changed the game for you? Also, share your experience shooting the first video ever?
It's very difficult to pinpoint one video and say that this was it. Johnny Johnny Yes Papa remains the most viewed with 1.2 billion views. But then we do have so many other videos which have clocked many million views.
It didn’t start with us having an intention to make it big at all. I got into the practice of singing lullabies and making animated videos of my daughter dancing. It was just to put her to sleep, but this practice went into creating animated videos that all kids could watch.
How many videos should one upload every day to become as successful as ChuChu?
I think original and unique is the word. At ChuChu , we are currently uploading about 10-15 videos on an average every month.
Vinoth with his team when they won the Diamond Play button (given to channels that clock over 10 million subscribers) from YouTube in August 2017
With 12 million subscribers, you recently got the YouTube's Diamond Button. Has that helped grow your audience?
Well buttons alone aren't a recognition of growth. I think we have been bettering our engagement with audiences with unique and original content. Most of our content is global in nature, meaning not targeted to a specific demographic, and I think that is what makes it different and engaging. There is also a financial advantage for adopting a global content style. The costs per impression in US and UK are far higher. In India you might earn Rs 5, whereas in US it could be 5 times of that.
Can you share us an example of how you were able to better engagement?
Take a look at Baa, Baa, Black Sheep. The original piece looked racial with the black and white sheep in the pictures in most books. So, we tweaked it saying 'the more we share, the more we care, Baaba', with brown, white and black sheep [depicting harmony]. [This video has over 300 million views so far.]
Then, Jack and Jill, went up the hill was rewritten as Be Strong and Stay Strong, to denote strength.
Krishnan [BM Krishnan is the Co-founder] plays a great part in delivering this originality. Although, he focuses on original pieces today, the rewritten works have also given us good traction. Ultimately the scores and final product should be original and unique to stand out.
How have you been handling increasing competition and un-subscriptions?
Competition is rising every day, but the scope is immense in the market we are in. There are 1500 new channels that have been launched within the kids category, and I am happy that things have changed from the time we started ours.
Nothing can be done about un-subscriptions. We have a monthly 10% unsubscribe ratio. Some might have accidentally subscribed to the channel and hence they didn’t want to stay subscribed, while some might have opted out because they didn't like the notifications after a point. So, it's an individual choice, which is pretty similar across all channels. Otherwise neither are challenges actually.
As ChuChu grows, your audiences grow too, how do you make your videos relevant to accommodate the growing audiences?
I can tell you that my daughter Harshita, who was ChuChu's first viewer, today does not view our videos.
We have been wanting to grow into the education sector and are planning to increase our fan base there. Currently we are focused on content till 8-9 years at the max. But besides that we have some movie orders too, and are also doing long-form. There is broadcasting and a TV channel for the world that we are exploring currently.
The expansive studio in Chennai is now ready. What next?
The 20000 sq. feet office and studio is already live in Chennai. When we started, we were 40 people, today we have a 200-strong office. A bigger office should mean more uploads. Other developments include things like a ChuChu Theme park, merchandising, soft toys, etc. But I think those require us to have established characters. These are all constant endeavors.
When it comes to the revenue streams, it was mostly YouTube, but recently we have also partnered with Amazon Prime videos. It's a different way of working with both. For Amazon, you commit 'X' number of videos and get to collect an agreed sum, while with YouTube one gets to share the revenues.
There was some murmur recently in the markets that you might be keen on Venture Capital (VC) funding. Have those talks progressed?
Yes, last year we tried looking at some funds, but I think those guys don't understand our vertical at all. VCs will give us a higher value and a great valuation. But I don't think we are looking at that right now. We are looking at the next level.
But a name like Disney, sounds interesting and we might be open in talking with the likes of such companies. If a huge media company is willing and allows us to grow, then why not?