It’s the Beginning of the End for Independent YouTubers
As studios pump out the type of content the site originally intended to subvert, the barrier to success rises
When T-Series surpassed celebrity influencer PewDiePie in YouTube subscribers last year, most people in the West hadn’t yet heard of the Bollywood movie and music studio. An outspoken and controversial independent creator based in the U.K. had been displaced by a media monolith based in India.
The coup is a sign of how YouTube is changing. For the first half of its existence, the company had a slogan that sat under the logo on its homepage: “Broadcast Yourself.” It emphasized the individualistic, democratizing idea of the platform: Anyone with a camera and an internet connection could upload videos and potentially be thrust into superstardom. PewDiePie, whose real name is Felix Kjellberg, was a prime example of that. The Swede, who now lives in Brighton, England, was studying industrial economics and technology management at university before he grew bored of it and focused on his YouTube channel instead. Rather than a career in middle management, PewDiePie is now a millionaire celebrity creator adored by millions.
But as the site became more popular — two billion people now visit it every month, and users upload more than 500 hours of footage every minute — competition on the platform increased, and the barrier to success rose.
Instead of being a small one-person-band channel with a handful of support staff, T-Series is a media giant: It both produces its own content and buys the rights to others’ content. It owns the rights to a deep back catalog of movies and music that it can pick and choose from to bolster uploads when needed, and it runs 30 separate YouTube channels, each focusing on different niches and languages.
There’s a sense that succeeding on YouTube now requires this sort of industrialized mass production.
Unlike many of the individual creators who have often topped YouTube’s charts throughout the last 15 years, T-series was a music, television, and film studio before it was a YouTube channel. The company produced its first albums in 1984 and joined YouTube in 2010 after bootleg versions of its own content…