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'Laung Laachi' and the magic of a billion views on YouTube

'Laung Laachi', title song of the Punjabi film Laung Laachi (2018), became the first Indian song video to hit the one-billion-views mark last month.

The Cinestaan Team

Numbers are all the rage these days. From Rs100 crore films to Rs500 crore collections at the box office, the world of cinema has become obsessed with records.

With social media quickly taking over the entertainment space, the parameters might have changed but the competition remains. YouTube has now become one of the fastest growing content spaces for Indian media.

In March 2018, Satya Raghavan, then entertainment head at YouTube India, told The Hindu BusinessLine newspaper, “When we started Youtube Fanfest in India in 2014, there were barely any subscribers who had notched a million viewer mark. However, it has grown tremendously in the last few years.”

With a user base of 4.4 billion in 2019, there is no question why content creators, producers and filmmakers were flocking to the platform. In 2019, Indian entertainment giant T-Series took over as the most-subscribed YouTube channel in the world. The company threw its full might behind a campaign that took it past Swedish content creator PewDiePie for the pole position. The battle was quite significant, as the back-and-forth trolling between the two would suggest.

These developments have also shown consistent growth in Indian audiences on the platform. The latest example is the Punjabi music video, 'Laung Laachi', crossing the one-billion-views mark on the platform, becoming the first Indian song video to achieve the distinction.

The title song from the film of the same name was composed by Gurmeet Singh and features Ammy Virrk and Neeru Bajwa. The video has cross 1.14 billion views now, with 3.2 million likes and 513 dislikes.

The numbers matter to the extent that it becomes a prestigious moment for the production house to showcase. On 'Laung Laachi' hitting the 1 billion number, Bhushan Kumar, head of T-Series, said, “It’s quite surreal! The song has been hugely appreciated and over one billion views is certainly a huge validation from music buffs. It has struck an emotional chord with viewers across the globe and we are extremely happy with the humongous success.”

Music director Gurmeet Singh said, “It's a huge achievement and I'm feeling very proud to have composed the song. Hearty congratulations to everyone associated with the song, especially T-Series, which has been an instrumental force in taking the song to this level, and the viewers for making it a huge success."

The Significance of a Billion

'Laung Laachi' became the first Indian song video to hit the one-billion mark. In a random search, the most viewed Indian videos after 'Laung Laachi' are:

1. 'Mile Ho Tum' by Neha Kakkar (868 mn)

2. 'High Rated Gabru' by Guru Randhawa (865 mn)

3. 'Zaroori Tha' by Rahat Fateh Ali Khan (822 mn)

All three songs date back to 2017 or earlier. Even 'Laung Laachi' was released on the YouTube channel of T-Series Punjabi on 21 February 2018.

An interesting and, perhaps, funny aside is that the most viewed Indian videos (apart from 'Laung Laachi', that is) are Phonics Song with Two Words (over 2 billion views), Johnny Johnny Yes Papa (over 1.7 billion) and Old Macdonald Had a Farm (almost 1.1 billion), a reminder that one billion views is not to be scoffed at, and takes time and consistency to be achieved.

Hence, globally, it is music videos that reach the number regularly owing to their relatability and shelf life. The music video ‘Despacito' recently crossed the 6 billion views mark. Meanwhile, Guns n Roses 1980s hallmark ‘Sweet Child o’ Mine’ became the first video from the 1980s to reach 1 billion views in October 2019. While 'Despacito' grew owing to its immensely popular music, the latter number has lasted longer for its relatability and shelf life. (Of course, it didn't help Guns n Roses — and other even older greats of pop, rock and classical music — that YouTube only began in 2005 and there was no YouTube back in the day.)

A media professional in the digital world says, “It [1,000,000,000 views] is a rare thing and doesn’t really happen unless a lot of people are engaged with the content. It is a great number to have.”

She added, “It [the song 'Laung Laachi'] also caters to a large audience. The Punjabi music scene is really large. But first, it is the fact that they [users] have engaged with the content. There was also ‘Lamberghini’ which went viral. There is no specific reason, sometimes it just goes viral.”

How Things Go Viral

The term viral remains as much a mystery to boomers as it does to social media professionals. But there is a method to the madness.

Sagar Madhani, founder, Cyringe Media, told us, “Marketing is never a guaranteed result, but it is an assumption. This assumption is based on the input you are giving.”

Madhani added that most production houses choose to create videos that tap into large influence bases that go beyond music. “If I pick up Varun Dhawan, Alia Bhatt and Suniel Shetty, for instance, I know I am getting 10 million, five million and three million, this is just their Instagram followers, as potential viewers," he explained. "How I reach out to them is also important. Do I do a poster release? Do I do a TikTok dance challenge? There are lots of parameters that go into it.”

A good example would be the recent music single ‘Filhall’ featuring Akshay Kumar and Nupur Sanon. The song has 523 million views, but it was released only in November 2019.

Similarly, Nora Fatehi and Vicky Kaushal, two of the more saleable artistes in the film industry today, featured in the single ‘Pachtaoge’ which has caught the attention of 325 million users since August 2019.

'Laung Laachi' features Ammy Virrk and Neeru Bajwa, two of Punjab's most popular artistes. Bajwa has a following of over 442,000 on Twitter and 3.2 million on Instagram, with Virrk bringing in 3.5 million followers from Instagram. Add their fan clubs and you have an influencer range that easily crosses the 10 million mark.

Organic or Inorganic?

While viewership numbers always attract eyeballs, the question remains: how many of those are truly viewers and not part of the marketing gimmicks. This is differentiated by techies by the terms 'organic' and 'inorganic'.

Organic traffic refers to viewers who naturally arrive on the video or content through searches, links and references, and react to the content in place. Inorganic traffic refers to forcibly generated views that are created by surge viewing, sponsored boosts of links, and smart marketing.

Every content creator, depending on the resources available to him or her, opts for techniques to boost their viewership. This is understandable. But not all of them work.

Another media professional in the digital medium said, “It is T-Series. They have promoted it and fuelled it in the right manner.” She added that there is an element of luck involved as well. “For instance, 'Kolaveri' and 'Lamberghini' are names that are not always planned. Sometimes, it just happens, and you can capitalize on that.”

A 2019 BBC report stated that '20% of T-Series’ total revenue comes from YouTube'. With more than 65% of the music and entertainment company's fanbase coming from India, it certainly has a lot of potential to tap into.

However, Sagar Madhani reminds us: "We are a country of more than one billion people. It is not hard to get one billion views if there is a channelled effort. Also, it is not necessary that one billion views come from India alone."

Since the spat with PewDiePie, T-Series has acquired an international presence. The channel even started a #BharatWinsYouTube campaign on social media, with the support of several prominent Indian artistes like Sonakshi Sinha, Akshay Kumar, Varun Dhawan and Salman Khan to tap into nationalism as well as an international fanbase.

The record shows that T-Series has increasingly established a method to the madness of YouTube algorithms. No wonder the company is now targeting a huge and growing youth base on the platform through its music videos and singles. The old music cassette days are gone, but the target remains the same.