It’s a busy morning at the Krylon make-up studio in Delhi. Outsized French windows lend a cool air to the dimly lit room on a hot, sultry day. Peep in, and you see an artist swirling her magic brush while demonstrating the techniques of airbrush makeup. Filming her is Nidhi Sharma, 34, wielding a Canon 600D in one hand. There’s a hefty tripod in the other—she’s drifting from one shot to the next for her latest YouTube channel, Beauty Mantra.
A producer-cum-director-cum-scriptwriter-cum-cameraperson, Nidhi is one of the tribe of new-age independent entrepreneurs who are producing content for YouTube and earning, well let’s say, more than just a quick buck. Two years, 409 videos, over 20,000 subscribers and 40 million views later, she makes an average of Rs 60,000-65,000 a month. YouTube may not assure her stability or regular pay, but Nidhi enjoys her time alone, giving her imagination a free run. She now posts four to five videos a week, leaning on her media background to understand “the mind of the viewer”. “Compared to television,” she says, “the online space is more personal and allows you to post whatever you connect with. And it has great potential because it’s so contextual.”
Taking cue from internet celebrities like Canada-based ‘Superwoman’ Lilly Singh and professional circus juggler Olga Kay from where else but Russia, housewives, college students, musicians and fitness experts are now posting funky videos online to buy their spot in the sun. There is YouTube maami Geetha, 61, who co-hosts a cookery show with her husband Radhakrishnan, 66, on this online portal. Tonnes of Tamil nris are hooked to their simple home-cooked recipes of aviyal, mor kozhambu and ellu chutney. Little could Radhu Maami (as the couple is called) have imagined that the idea, which originated as a cooking demonstration for their son and Canadian daughter-in-law, would actually become Geethradhu, a full-fledged online channel, after curious viewers started posting several queries. Adapting to the new technology was quite smooth for the middle-aged couple. “We used to make trips to Canada and UK once in two years. So, after we came back from one of our trips in 2008, we posted an easy ‘how to make aviyal’ recipe and clicked “for public view” inadvertently. Soon, there was a call from someone in the US requesting us to post something he wanted. Like that we started uploading many videos on request. The nativity, simplicity and casual talk probably brought back many memories among those settled abroad. So, in 2009, Google started paying us a little on the basis of revenue from ads.” Now, the couple earns approximately $200 a month.
YouTube had in 2012 announced a partner’s programme allowing content producers to share the ad revenue from their videos. All creators have to do is agree to let Google sell the ads that would appear on their site in return for a share of the revenue. Today, the company says, there are a million “partners” trying to make money off the platform. According to ComScore, a digital business analytics site, India has 5.4 crore ‘unique Internet videos’ followers, who are giving this initiative a fillip. Isabel, 19, who’s an avid fan of home-cooked videos, says, “In the online platform, censorship is limited, and it’s also a more entertaining and informative medium. Visual demonstrations strike the right chord with the audience.”
Ranjit, whose channel geekyranjit has videos of smartphone reviews. (Photograph by P. Anil Kumar)
No one knows it better than Gaurav and Prateek, who through their Socio Catastrophe TV, want to promote the online video and vlogging (video blogging) culture in India. Their “disgruntled dad furious over son’s misdemeanours” video created a stir all over social media, earning them 17,000 subscribers with a single video. “We now earn between Rs 40,000 and Rs 45,000 per month and our focus is on socially relevant subjects. Our videos are instinctive and situational.”
But is the thrill of becoming a master of the internet universe worth quitting a regular, stable job? Definitely, says Bangalore-based Archana Doshi. A former software engineer, Doshi originally posted anything and everything she cooked and packed for lunch for her kids, even buying her groceries online. “My basic idea was to help people across the world who are flooded with queries about the modus operandi on vegetarian food,” she says. “And thus my channel, Archana’s Kitchen, took off.” Give her these creative endeavours anyday over a “boring, sedate corporate lifestyle”.
Hyderabad-based entrepreneur Ranjit, 37, too revels in his life online. The online videos on his channel geekyranjit, which feature reviews of smartphones, apps and software technologies, has garnered 95,600 views. Snappy videos, as he explains, are more lively and accessible than dull articles about technology. He points out a downside, though. “In the tech world, devices are expensive and sometimes we have to buy and retain some of them for comparison. Also, downstream bandwidth (that is, internet speed) in India is slow and time-consuming. Being committed is tough.”
Also, while the viewership may be growing, the payouts remain disappointing. Incomes fluctuate from month to month, say those who have signed up for the ad revenue-sharing programme since its launch.
Nidhi outlines another difficulty. “It was initially tough to get people to work with us because they thought the online space wasn’t a good enough platform. For make-up tutorials, models remained unconvinced and refused to work.” Competition from mainstream media remains a bugbear. “People also often post nasty comments,” says Nidhi. “But still we try to take criticism positively.”
They have a strong will, and therefore find a way online to give their creative imagination full flight. Movies exclusively for YouTube, D-I-Y videos and tech reviews, you’ll find it all on the online planet. What next? Reporting by local citizens? Fashion features?
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