Thursday, 21 November 2019

How T-Series went on to become the King of YouTube

Indian music label, T-Series overtook Swedish internet 
sensation PewDiePie becoming the first YouTube channel to surpass 100 million 
subscribers. The two operations traded the lead for weeks. Trailing by about 100,000 
subscribers, Kjellberg posted a track called “Congratulations” — a four-minute rap video in 
which T-Series persuaded the court to block the video in India on the grounds that it was 
racist and a few weeks later surged into a commanding lead. It now boasts 118 million 
subscribers, 16 million more than PewDiePie.

“It was a childish war, but it helped us,” said Neeraj Kalyan, the company’s resident. “Now
 people all over the world know what is T-Series.”
The journey of the music company started in 1970s by Gulshan Kumar who was managing 
his father’s record shop in New Delhi and saw an opportunity to capitalize on a 
breakthrough technology: the cassette tape.

Then, as now, the most popular music in India came from Hindi films with elaborate song-
and-dance sequences wedged into by-the-numbers plots. The advent of tape decks meant 
that customers could compile tunes from different soundtracks onto a single cassette.
“You can’t call it piracy because it was happening in every shop,” said Bhushan Kumar, 
Chairman and Managing Director of T-Series. “Everyone was re-recording a song and 
selling it.”

In 1984, Kumar founded T-Series and within a few years had built a state-of-the-art facility 
outside New Delhi that was manufacturing 80,000 cassettes a day. Kumar found little-
known singers and musicians who could perform pitch-perfect renditions of the beloved, 
warbling Bollywood oldies. He brought the artists to his studio to record fresh versions in 
crisp, stereophonic sound, then sold the recordings — often carrying the same name as the 
originals — for as little as a quarter of the price.

All of a sudden, T-Series could be spotted all over the Indian cities. By the late 1980s, it was 
believed to control 70% of India’s music market. The artists Kumar plucked from obscurity 
became stars, breaking the monopoly that a handful of singers had held over the industry 
for decades.

A devout Hindu — he credited his success to the goddess Mata Vaishno Devi and said the 
“T” in his company’s name stood for the trident wielded by Lord Shiva — Kumar was the 
first to bring recordings of devotional songs into the mainstream. He also produced music in '
regional Indian languages, tapping into the more than half of the country for whom Hindi 
isn’t the mother tongue.

After the tragic demise of Gulshan Kumar, the control of the company fell upon his son 
Bhushan Kumar who was 19 at the time and living a privileged life of exotic cars and foreign 
holidays. “He wanted me to enjoy my childhood the way he never could,” Bhushan Kumar 
recalled.

It took years for management to bounce back with a slew of original films and albums. In 
2007, however, a new threat arose: YouTube.

 The world’s biggest video-sharing platform went online in India the next year and T-Series, 
like other media companies, soon found its songs showing up on the site without 
permission. T-Series channels include Hindi, regional music, children’s programming, 
religious songs, and fitness.

The duel with PewDiePie earned a lot of hype, but the company officials say they are more 
focused on total views, which determine how much advertising revenue YouTube videos 
earn. Working out of an industrial park outside Delhi, where trophies and plaques from 
YouTube bedeck the halls, a dozen employees upload new music videos and movie trailers 
almost daily as T-Series expands the biggest song catalog in Bollywood — 180,000 tracks — 
and produces as many as 20 films a year.

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