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YouTube India content head on offline videos, ad-tech & more

Satya Raghavan

Satya Raghavan

Google Inc’s offline feature for YouTube has been a big hit in India. The search engine giant is now looking at creating tools which will help Indian users to create more content which, in turn, will attract more advertisers.

YouTube Space is one such offering that it will unveil in the first week of December. The online video platform also plans to create more web-series such as ‘India in a Day’ besides getting creators such as YRF (Yash Raj Films) Studios onto the platform.

In this interview, Satya Raghavan, head – content operations, YouTube India, Google Inc, talks about YouTube’s content strategy for India.

It was announced early this year that Google will launch YouTube Space in collaboration with Subhash Ghai’s film institute Whistling Woods International in India. How does it work and when will you start it?

The whole concept of YouTube Space is to allow people to use the space to create content, upload it on YouTube and then walk away without involvement of any money.

However, there are two barriers content creators face. First is the conceptual barrier, where one constantly tries to figure out the kind of content one needs to create. Next is the technological barrier – where one faces issues such as what camera should be used, the kind of lighting required for the shoot, the editing software, etc.

And this is where YouTube Space comes into play providing the technical support. People need to get on to a website and click on a link. After matching a few criteria, he or she can use the facility. We are currently in the process of setting up the criteria for Indian content creators. We plan to officially start YouTube Space in the first week of December.

Till recently, YouTube in India meant a platform for TV broadcasters to upload catch-up content. When did YouTube become a platform for exclusive content?

YouTube is a ten-year-old brand. It started in America putting the creator in the center of action. Till early 2014, in India it was primarily about traditional media companies uploading their content for people to watch. But just before the 2014 General Elections, the platform was flooded with content created by people. Also, most of the content went viral with people talking about it or sharing it online. That’s when we realised that the creator movement, which is the premise of YouTube’s existence, had begun in India.

What are the genres and formats of content which are most popular?

There are about seven to eight genres besides television and film content which have picked up. For example, comedy content or food related content, kids related content and lifestyle content such as beauty and fashion for women, and lifestyle content for men such as sports, electronics, gaming and short films, apart from web-series are doing well on the platform.

In fact, the tip of the arrow is currently more skewed towards web-series, which is being created by TV broadcasters and movie production companies.

For example, Sony Liv, the over-the-top (OTT) platform of Sony Pictures Networks India Pvt Ltd (SPN, earlier known as Multi Screen Media), has created an YouTube kind of content called LoveBytes. The web-series contains about 19 episodes of 11 minutes.

Similarly,YRF Studios has created a web-series called Man’s World on gender equality. The film production company recently created another series called BangBaajaBaaraat. The first episode of season one is running on YouTube.

We now expect to see traditional content creators from TV channel/movie studios creating YouTube specific content. At the same time, run-of-the-mill user-generated content, too, will exist on the platform.

Google recently partnered with director Ridley Scott, Gangs of Wasseypur director Anurag Kashyap and Canada-based Indian director Richie Mehta, known for making Siddharth on user-generated documentary India in a Day. What are the kinds of web-series Google is looking to make in India?

We would like to create more web-series or short films where we can directly influence people. For example, ‘Life in a Day project’ where we partner with Ridley Scott is the sixth installment of the series that began in 2011. We create programmes on YouTube which are scale-able. The ultimate goal is to make programmes which have the potential to go viral so that so we can get more content creators hooked onto YouTube.

Google introduced TrueView option which allows users to skip an ad. This leaves the YouTube masthead (the banner on the homepage of the desktop site) as the main ad revenue earner. Has the strategy worked?

YouTube is the world’s most democratic platform. After giving 55 per cent of our revenue back to users, we get 45 per cent, so it is a very transparent deal. In case of TrueView, the minute someone skips an ad, we don’t charge the advertiser a single penny.

TrueView is our most successful product, because the theory is if someone hasn’t pressed the skip button she must have found the ad to be extremely engaging. This is also the reason why companies and ad agencies have started creating advertising which is unique to the YouTube platform. For example, the latest ad from Ambuja Cement featuring WWE wrestler ‘The Great Khali’ has been shared and talked about.

With YouTube allowing users to go offline to watch videos, how has the strategy paid off?

The ‘offline’ strategy is very unique to India and has been developed for the Indian market and other BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) nations. The idea is based on the insight that people tend to watch a video liked by them more than once. They also like to show it to others as well as share it with friends. On YouTube an user can do all of these even when she goes offline.

What really works in favour of YouTube is that all the views generated go back to the creators. It does not work like a download; rather the content stays in the cache format and all the metrics keep getting updated. For the advertiser this is a good move because if there is a pre-roll ad, then it gets played every time the video is played.

Which are the areas YouTube will focus on in India?

YouTube has adopted a three-pronged strategy. The objective is to have products for three kinds of stakeholders – creators of content, consumers and advertisers. YouTube’s entire ecosystem flourishes on the back of this. So we will be introducing a lot of innovative products in the next one year for these three stakeholders. For instance, besides offering products such as TrueView to advertisers, we launched the ‘offline’ feature last year and this year we will be launching YouTube Space for content creators.

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