The power of polarization

T-Series is the largest channel on Youtube - no PewDiePie! In this article, I explain how they did it.

The power of polarization

Polarization is not just a term we’ve heard many times over the last 5 years in a political context. It’s also the theme for a battle between the two largest Youtube channels: T Series and PewDiePie. This is a story about pride, nations coming online, and embarrassing disses.

Let’s take a step back.

The largest Youtube channel in the world is T-Series. It’s likely you haven’t heard about it.

About the channel:

"Music can change the world". T-Series is India's largest Music Label & Movie Studio, believes in bringing world close together through its music. T-Series is associated with music industry from past three decades, having ample catalogue of music comprising plenty of languages that covers the length & breadth of India. We believe after silence, nearest to expressing the inexpressible is Music. So, all the music lovers who believe in magic of music come join us and live the magic of music with T-Series.

T Series is a pure Youtube play.

Its Facebook page has almost 10M likes and 25M followers.

The Instagram account has 3.5M followers.

But its 140M Youtube subscribers make it much larger than even PewDiePie (105M) or Cocomelon (84M).

According to Wikipedia, the channel was set up in 2006 but didn’t upload videos before 2010. It’s now run by 13 people.

Neeraj Kalyan, T Series president, notes

“Our promotion strategy is YouTube first as it gives our content instant reach and allows us to measure consumer acceptance on the go”.

In other words, T Series uses Youtube as a test channel.

Its website is still in beta and brings in only ~7,000 visitors/month (source: SEMrush). But T Series doesn’t care about websites and why would they. The Indian music (and film) label owns 35% of the Indian music market, creates movies, soundtracks, and was reported to make $100M in the first 6 months of 2018. About 15% of that comes from Youtube.

The brand name has 4M monthly searches just on Youtube (680K in India), according to AHREFS.

So, part of its success is the strong brand, which we’ll come back to in a second.

One growth tactic that still works in India is ringtones. Each video has a phone number you can text and receive a ringtone back.

The ringtones allude to the high importance of mobile devices for India in general but also for T Series.

If you want to understand the rise of T Series, you need to understand India’s fast-growing online population of now 500M users. T Series’ president revealed in an interview with the Times that the rise of cheap bandwidth in 2016 was integral to its success.

Youtube alone, which is banned in China, has 225M users in India. You can see the traffic growth of Youtube in India in data from SEMrush.

The subscriber and view count has been gaining consistently since 2017, according to Social Blade.

TubeBuddy tells us that the channel uploads 2 videos on average per day.

As music and film label, T Series has a large artist roaster. It can feature and exclusively upload tracks from Guru Randhawa (128K search volume), Salman Khan (1.1M search volume), or Deepika Padukone (1M search volume). These artists bring their audience to the Youtube channel as well and contribute to the brand and overall popularity.

When I say channel, I actually mean the network of 29 (!) channels, including one for kids, classics, Islamic music, karaoke, and health and fitness.

Altogether, we’re talking about more than 220M subscribers. India is a country of many languages and dialects. Creating a channel for each of them was a fundamental part of T Series’ success story.

As central player in Bollywood, the brand certainly benefitted from its rise - in and outside of India. The NY Times reports over 40% of the channel’s traffic to come from outside India.

The most viewed video is a song from artist Guru Randhawa with a stunning 920,000,000 views (uploaded in 2017).

That’s almost 4x more than the most famous video by PewDiePie “B**ch Lasagna”, which ironically is a diss track against T Series. In fact, the dispute between the two channels got so big that Forbes, The Verge, and Business Insider reported it.

Hackers even went as far as to hack printers, Nest cameras, Google Chromecasts, and the WSJ website to tip the battle in PewDiePie’s favor.

It completely escalated. However, both channels also gained a lot of subscribers in this war.

In a Quartz India interview, the president of T Series reveals a campaign the company ran as response to PewDiePie’s attack: #BharatWinsYouTube (Bharat = India).

The strong appeal to national pride and inclusion of Indian celebrities played a big role in T Series’ success and ultimately win over PewDiePie. The mistake PewDiePie made was to insult not just T Series but also the people of India.

A study from 2010 from the University of Kansas shows the unifying power of a common enemy.

Psychology Today:

Instead of believing that bad things happen for no reason, enemies give us a sense of control, allowing us to attribute bad things to a clear cause that can be understood, contained, and controlled.

PewDiePie was a common enemy for T Series and also the online users of India. The more aggressively supporters of PewDiePie tried to help him, the more they actually pushed T Series.

We’re seeing that force unleashing in the US today, as the people unite against racism, police brutality, and suppression.

But it’s also a lesson for Marketers. Common enemies or opponents have spurred growth and ambition for many companies, for example, Reddit.

A common enemy doesn’t have to be a person or a company, it can also be a problem you want to eradicate. Messaging - internally and externally - is integral to unite your team and your audience.