The first Indian video to hit one billion views on YouTube isn’t from a comedy or tech channel, as popular as those segments may be. Rather, the honour belongs to Chennai-based ChuChu TV — a YouTube channel geared towards kids from the ages of zero to seven. It hit the billion views landmark for its nursery rhymes compilation video, Johny Johny Yes Papa. Instead of being a straight up cover of the well known nursery rhyme, it is modified to be a more contemporary take on the classic.
According to YouTube, ChuChu TV is the number one channel in Asia Pacific across all genres, and ranked number two worldwide in the education genre. Overall it ranks 15th globally across all genres - no mean feat considering it started just in 2013. Gadgets 360 spoke to Vinoth Chandar, Founder, CEO and Creative Director, ChuChu TV to find out what makes this relatively new player in the space tick.
“She was almost two years old so I used to show her YouTube videos and she used to get a lot of excitement from seeing cartoons and other stuff," says Chandar, talking about her daughter, who became the inspiration for ChuChu TV. "I always wanted to draw her in 2D and create a character out of her. So I went ahead and drew her in 2D and then animated her and she liked it. And she's a very chubby girl from birth so I did this chubby cheeks rhyme for her and the video really came out well. When I showed it to her she liked it a lot."
Seeing his daughter’s response, Chandar thought it could be a good idea to upload it to YouTube for other children to watch. The results were beyond Chandar’s expectations.
“In two weeks we got more than three lakh views, other kids were liking our content," he says. The second video, which was based on Twinkle Twinkle Little Star was even more popular, getting four to five times more views than the first.
“With just two videos our channel crossed 5,000 subscribers," says Chandar. "That's the time when a partner manager from YouTube called us and said ‘you're doing some magic, yours is coming ahead other channels.’ They asked us to invest more on the platform."
At the time, Buddies Infotech — the company run by Chandar and four of his partners, was into services. After Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, that changed pretty quickly.
"We took a conscious call not to focus on services, all five partners are on ChuChu TV, although Buddies Infotech exists for sake of it," he says. "We started with four animators, we’ve now grown to 200 and moved into a 20,000 square feet office in Chennai.”
And while ChuChu TV started thanks to Chandar’s daughter, it sustained with inputs from the children of other members too — along with a combination of instinct.
“Right from day one it was gut feel on what to do,” says Chandar when asked about the process of making videos for ChuChu TV.
“Once we decide what to do, then we sit together, think a lot. They say you have to think like a kid to attract a kid right? That's the basic premise," he tells us. "Lots of us have a six-year-old or a three-year-old and spend a lot of time with our kids. So we think like how the kids think and then based on that we set up the story board and shorts for the kid, like how funny and engaging it should be for a little one."
In addition to this, the company ensures the rhymes are free of any negative connotations such as Ba Ba Black Sheep, which has its roots in racism.
“We added a black sheep, white sheep, and a brown sheep. The video crossed 500 million views and is still doing well,” Chandar says. “After that, we got a lot of comments from parents and we'd add more verses to promote positivity and good values like sharing, caring, and loving.”
YouTube comments are also how ChuChu TV gets ideas for new videos. While the comments section on most videos make a post-apocalyptic earth seem like paradise, a dedicated team at ChuChu TV trawls through its comments section (which seems around 1,000 to 2,000 comments a day) to understand what its burgeoning fanbase wants.
“Most of the new ideas come from these comments. Now they want us to do the rhymes which they like, which their kids can watch," says Chandar. "That has been the trend with parents asking for videos based on colours or exploration. All these comments we take into account and plan. We take our parents communication very seriously."
Aside from being a breeding ground for new ideas, the comments section keeps ChuChu TV aware of its audience’s needs.
“From day one, the traffic is highest from the US, second is India, then UK, Philippines, and Vietnam," says Chandar. "We did a numbers song and here in India we give kids toy guns to play with and in the video there was a lyric that said ’shoot the numbers with the gun'. We got a lot of negative comments from the US fans and parents asking how we could show toddlers a gun."
"We never thought about this. So we removed the gun, changed the lyric, changed the animation, and re-uploaded the video," he says. "We take this seriously because finally its the parents that decide what their kids should watch. “
And the kids give ChuChu TV the advantage in terms of views. While other kinds of channels depend on virality to see their videos grow, the company still sees the first video it uploaded getting watched.
“After a new trailer comes out and the movie finally releases, people will go to something else," opines Chandar. "Here if a kid likes a nursery rhyme he'll keep watching it. Repeat watch time is very high in our genre. That is the reason why we hit one billion views."
Those views are concentrated around mobile and tablets that make up “70 percent and above” of the devices ChuChu TV is watched on. Smart TVs around 20 percent. Desktops and laptops make up less than five percent. While some channels publish multiple videos a day, ChuChu TV has a different strategy, one that's clearly worked for them so far. “We do ten to fifteen videos a month. That’s the maximum because we concentrate on the quality,” opines Chandar. “If you see channels in our genre, most have more than 400 to 500 videos. We have only 150-odd videos. For us it's about quality versus quantity. “
In terms of monetisation, YouTube ads are the “maximum revenue generator” for the company. But the goal is to go beyond that and to take the brand into merchandise. It recently tied up with Dream Theatre — the company responsible for bringing all non-video game-related Pokemon merchandise into India — towards this end. Brazilian YouTube channel Galinha Pintadinha — which focusses on a similar audience as ChuChu TV has been able to make a fortune on merchandise revenue alone. However, Chandar is cautious in his approach.
“It’s a slow process. We don't feel we're ready. We've updated our characters to make them more beautiful as toys, so now we want to do more videos with updated characters," he says. "Once that gets viewed enough by the little ones then we'll move into the merchandise space." He isn’t ruling out ChuChu TV games either.
As for platforms? Right now ChuChu TV videos are available on Amazon Prime Video and YouTube alone. Outside India, Netflix has shown interest in working with ChuChu TV, Chandar claims. YouTube, however, is of paramount importance.
“We want to be on some premium platforms other that YouTube. But YouTube will always be the numbers generator. That's where our audience is at," he says. "It's the biggest search engine after Google. We want to be there on YouTube. In addition many people ask for ad-free content. So for them there's Amazon."