I have spent the past 5 years pursuing a PhD at FMS-Delhi on Human Brands. I am almost done with my study which has covered over 50 celebrities on over 64 parameters. But each one of my researched celebrities is either a film star or a sportsperson. I have covered some TV personalities and some star couples too. My list is pretty exhaustive. I have all the four Khans … Salman, Shahrukh, Aamir and Saif; I have Big B; I have Akshay Kumar to Hrithik Roshan and Ranbir to Ranveer and all the way down to Varun Dhawan and Siddharth Malhotra. The ladies parade covers Deepika, Priyanka, Kareena, Katrina, Alia, and even Kangana. I have all the dope on Captain Virat Kohli and on his predecessor Mahi Dhoni; my study also covers Shikhar Dhawan, Ashwin, Rahane, Rohit Sharma, and Cheteshwar Pujara. Amongst the TV personalities I have researched Arnab Goswami (yes!) and even Kapil Sharma. For academic goodness and due rigour, my list includes my friend and partner Chef Sanjeev Kapoor too.
But as we step into a new year, I wonder if my list is really comprehensive. No, no it is not because I have left out any of the big names of Bollywood or T20, but I am witnessing the dawn of new sensations on the horizon. Sensations created by, and on, the internet. Sensations watched everyday by millions and millions. Sensations who may not be very familiar to me, but are superstars to my daughter and her friends. Sensations to the ‘millennials’.
Who are these so called sensations? Where have they come from? Where can you meet them? Well, let us start with Zakir Khan. He describes himself on YouTube as ‘the quintessential launda’. He claims he is your friendly neighborhood guy, college senior, 4am friend and experienced colleague. He has been through everything that you have – love, relationships and the survival of the small fish in a big pond. Zakir shares his comic perspective on daily life struggles which leaves the audience wondering if they are laughing at him or themselves. With over 50 sold out shows, performances in more than a 200 venues as well as shows in Singapore and Dubai, Zakir Khan has swiftly become one of the most sought after comics in the country. Zakir has 1.5 million followers on YouTube!
The King of the Ring however is Bhuvan Bam (BB ki Vines) who with a subscriber base of over 2 million and views per video on an average of about 70 million, is the number one YouTuber of India. Giving Bam and Zakir competition are the likes of Kanan Gill with 591k YouTube followers and 1.41 million Twitter followers. Biswa Kalyan Rath too has about the same fan base on Twitter and 380k followers on YouTube. The comedy hit parade has today veterans like Vir Das on one side and the ‘infamous’ All India Bakchod quartet of Gursimran Khamba, Tanmay Bhat, Rohan Joshi and Ashish Shakya. Ssumier Pasricha has been made famous by his Punjabi WhatsApp forwards of his outlandish Pammi Aunty persona. The list of funny-men includes Suresh Menon, Abish Mathew, Gaurav Gera and CEO-turned comic Atul Khatri, Vipul Goyal, CarryMinati (Ajey Nagar), Varun Thakur, Sourabh Pant, Sapan Verma, Azeem Banatwalla, Sahil Shah, Kunal Rao and the somewhat older but more suave Amit Tandon.
Comedy is not all that sells. Music is big time too on the internet. Agam, a contemporary Carnatic rock act from Bangalore attracts 15k subscribers on YouTube, gets 95k likes on FB and has 1,824 followers on Twitter. Tushar Lall of the Indian Jam Project has 205k subscribers on YouTube; Sandunes (Sanaya Ardeshir) has 51k followers on FB, 25.9k followers on Twitter and even a 6,000-stronge following on Soundcloud. Abish Mathew, mentioned earlier has created a new genre of musical comedy and has 10,361 subscribers on YouTube. Wilbur Sargunaraj was an early pioneer on YouTube and today boasts almost 3.1 million views online and has a subscriber base of 12,324. Shraddha Sharma is an even bigger sensation with a subscriber base of 153,512. Shraddha is from small-town Dehradun and started early on the net, at age 15.
Vidya (Iyer) Vox started her own music channel in 2015 on YouTube, and since then her videos have been received over 300 million views, while her channel has over 3 million subscribers. Shirley Setia, who goes by the sobriquet ‘Pyjama Rockstar’ too has her own YouTube channel which has 1.6 million subscribers and 114 million views. Kaveri Kapur, the daughter of celebrated director Shekhar Kapur, got a million views for her first two songs, Did You Know & Half A Heart. Aditi (Dot) Saigal, daughter of late musician Amit Saigal, too is making waves.
Food is another hot seller on the net. While Chef Sanjeev Kapoor and other well known chefs like Vikas Khanna have committed fans online, the real sensations on YouTube are the likes of Nisha Madhulika, Vah Chef Sanjay Thumma and Manjula Jain. Nisha started with a food blog in Hindi in 2007. Today she has 157,057 subscribers on YouTube. Thumma started also a decade back and today has an impressive 317,162 subscribers loyal to him. Manjula Jain’s USP is vegetarian cooking and that attracts 184,272 subscribers to her channel on YouTube. Surely the success of all these home-grown chefs is food for thought.
Other successful genres include fitness. Raghav Pande has 21,740 subscribers. Sonal Sagaraya gives make-up and beauty tips to 11,092 subscribers. Sahil Bedi is a prankster who is followed by 27,473 subscribers. Paras Tomar is a travel pasha. He too has a large following. Well-known RJ Malishka has over 5,000 followers who tune in to her Bollywood interviews. Chai With Laxmi is the Coffee with Karan of the internet with 4,569 followers. Prasad Ved Pathak has a subscriber base of 250k and is your best guide for daily buys. Praval Sharma and Gaurav Choudhary provide unbiased views on technical products including mobiles. They have large followings. Mumbaiker Nikhil is a moto-vlogging expert. He too rocks.
While all of these new-gen internet sensations are becoming the stars of today and tomorrow, they are also raking in a lot of moolah. I saw Kanan Gill perform at a media event last week. His 10-minute act fetched him a cool Rs. 1 lakh, I was told. I also saw Atul Khatri perform at a function last Friday. While I found his humour somewhat low-brow and risqué, he had the house on fire. I think he too took home Rs. 1 lakh that evening.
Estimates point towards every 1 million views on YouTube fetching the performer Rs. 1 lakh in income. On an average, a YouTuber can earn upto US $0.8 per 1,000 views with banner ads, and US $5-8 per 1,000 views with roll out ads. This of course is peanuts compared to what a Virat Kohli rakes in for a TV commercial or what Shahrukh Khan earns for an evening of anchoring the Filmfare awards, yet it is serious money in the emerging world of the internet. Also, prominent YouTubers are being paid visibly large sums by brands to tweet and to mention products in their shows. A new industry is taking shape.
While there are specialists already taking charge of the new brigade of internet stars, I see very little awareness and connect with these new sensations in the world of advertising. For most in the agency business, these are still ‘cute’ new bubbles on the far horizon. Which is really strange because millions of new age subscribers thronging the new magnets need to be recognized and effectively channelized by the agencywallahs lest this too become another business where the ad agency got dis-intermediated.
(Sandeep Goyal is always on the look-out for new trends and new sensations. Today’s piece is a peep into an emerging new era where internet stars may eclipse current heroes and superstars.)