Journey from cassette giant to YouTube king: How T-Series evolved

Bhushan Kumar, Chairman and Managing director, Super Cassettes Industries (T-Series)
A few days back, Indian music company T-Series created history by becoming the first active YouTube channel to cross 100 million subscribers. It has since then added another million subscribers and continues to expand the gap between itself and its closest competitor Swedish YouTube celebrity Felix Arvid Ulf Kjellberg, better known as PewDiePie (also the name of his YouTube channel). On Friday, the company was felicitated by the Guinness World Records for amassing a subscriber base of 100 million on YouTube.

Anyone growing up in the 1990s will associate T-series with cassettes, and later, music CDs. However, the music label has managed to make the shift from physical sales dependency to digital revenue streams over the past decade or so. The company’s managing director, Bhushan Kumar, however, feels it is not rocket science. “People keep asking me how we ‘transformed’ into a digital label. I don’t think there is any transformation as such. We make music. Today, more than ever, content is king. Good content has potential and appeal. We make good content. Yes, we have evolved enough to know where our listeners are, and are providing the same good content to them where they want to listen to it,” he says.

Instead of looking at the shift to digital as a challenge, Kumar and team saw it as an opportunity. Physical sales of music records/cassettes had been on a decline, though not as drastically as in the past five years. The expansion of the internet also led to the rise of internet piracy — people would illegally download songs, robbing artists and music labels of royalty and revenue. The company did away with producing physical assets (cassettes and CDs) for its music releases for commercial sales, and shifted focus to digital revenues streams a few years back.

“The emergence of audio OTT (over-the-top) platforms and video OTT platform YouTube has meant that people now have easy access to music on these platforms, especially with the ad-supported model that most follow. Mobile data rates being cheap is a factor, but a more important factor is the availability of the content, and the fact that our focus on providing good content is as sharp as ever,” Kumar explains. This focus and expertise, he explains, are among reasons for the company not planning to launch its own platform. “We’re in the business of making music, not being a platform,” Kumar asserts.

According to data analytics site Social Blade, the music label could earn up to Rs 900 crore in advertising revenues from YouTube alone every year. While Kumar remained silent on the company’s top line figures, he said that royalties from audio OTT platforms and advertising revenues from YouTube were the biggest contributors to the company’s revenue, followed by royalties from TV channels and radio stations, and public performance revenues.

While the label is home to a vast library of Bollywood music (its YouTube channel alone has more than 13, 000 videos, and over 720 billion views in all), Kumar now wants to hone his focus on producing fresh non-film music. Back in the 1990s and early 2000s, India witnessed the emergence of what was then called Indi-pop music, which was different in its tone and texture from Bollywood music. 

However, the genre as such petered out once the trend of Bollywood remixes gripped the industry. While remixes continue to hit the airwaves even today, Kumar believes non-film music has a market, if only it reached the right listeners.

“The strategy remains the same. In the days of cassettes, we went to retailers and ensured our cassettes were in the front where customers could see them and sample them (in stories where music sampling was available). Now we have to convince music platforms to do the same. We have an advantage as T-Series, because the platforms, have seen the traction our content gets. So now it’s easier to introduce new music, which is not led by a Bollywood film,” Kumar says.

 The label intends to release 50-60 non-film music singles of various artists this year, of which nearly 20 have already been released. T-Series will be spending Rs 30-40 crore on these singles, but Kumar says the returns are already visible. A bulk of these singles will also come from new artists who T-Series has signed on; some of them also work on the Bollywood productions the company undertakes.

Apart from film music and new non-film singles, T-Series’ library boasts of an extensive catalogue of devotional music, which it has adapted to digital consumption as well. Contrary to what one would expect, Kumar reveals that he has noticed the uptake for devotional music on digital is as fast as other genres, if not more. 

 
“Now with music available on mobile phones, even for those in the older-age group, it much easier to access music, which has led to good consumption of the devotional library,” he says.

While the label will not be adding new tracks to the devotional library any time soon, it is working on revamping and refurbishing some popular tracks to include new voices and contemporary songs.

On a song
  •  T-Series’ YouTube channel has over 13, 000 videos, and over 720 bn views
  •  It could earn up to Rs 900 cr in ad revenues from YouTube yearly
  •  Royalties from audio OTT platforms and ad revenues from YouTube are the biggest contributors to revenue
  •  It plans to release 50-60 non-film music singles this year
  •  T-Series will spend Rs 30-40 cr on these singles

     

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