YouTube's launched charts for 43 countries — excluding India: What explains the oversight?

Editor's note: Beginning 23 February 2018, we're starting a fortnightly column by noted music writer Amit Gurbaxani that dwells (sometimes whimsically) on all things musical. Presenting — Musicology.

Last week, YouTube launched charts for 43 countries. My excitement turned swiftly into disappointment when I saw that India was not one of them. I found this strange because tracks from India frequently feature in YouTube’s global charts for top songs and top music videos, archives for which are available dating back to February 2016.

Why wasn’t India among the 43? After all, according to the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI)’s recently released Global Music Report, we’re the 19th largest music market in the world, with revenues of Rs 725 crore in 2017. This figure represented an increase of 27 per cent over the previous year with the bulk of this growth coming from ad-supported, as opposed to subscription-based, streaming. Which means it’s fair to say that plays on YouTube are generating a substantial amount of the money being made from music in India.

I reached out to YouTube’s public relations representative in India who got back with the following message from the company: “Unfortunately, the client won’t be able to comment on the questions. The quote shared yesterday is the only statement that can be shared for now.”

That quote told me what I already knew, from a blog post on YouTube’s For Artists section: “There are four charts available; Top Songs, Top Artists, Top Music Videos and Trending. We are constantly working to improve our charts experience on YouTube and we plan to add more geos, more charts and additional functionality to Music Insights including song analytics in the future.”

These lists monitor different kinds of viewership. While Top Music Videos shows the most viewed official videos on the platform, the Top Songs survey is wider in scope and includes hits from lyrics videos and user-generated content. Top Artists tallies an act’s popularity on the basis of the number of views garnered by all such videos plus officially released live performances. Trending focuses only on new releases.

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Just how strong is the Indian presence on YouTube? I examined the most comprehensive of these charts, Top Artists, for an answer. On last week’s chart, which covered the period from Friday, 4 May to Thursday, 10 May, there were 13 acts from India or of Indian origin. In other words they accounted for 13 percent of the top 100.

ARTIST RANK NO. OF VIEWS (IN MILLIONS)
Alka Yagnik 6 114
Udit Narayan 9 101
Arijit Singh 15 83.6
Neha Kakkar 21 70.2
Guru Randhawa 27 68.1
Kumar sanu 33 62
Shreya Ghoshal 41 54.5
Tony Kakkar 51 46.7
Lata Mangeshkar 55 46.4
Sonu Nigam 57 45.8
Anuradha Paudwal 81 33.9
Mannat Noor 92 32.1
Jasmin Walia 99 30.6

Now, let’s look at the 43 countries for which YouTube has launched charts. It includes some usual suspects such as the US, Japan, Germany, the UK, France, South Korea, Canada, Australia and Brazil, which are currently nine of the world’s 10 biggest music markets, according to the IFPI. The video streaming service is banned in China, which is at No. 10.

The other 34 countries comprise a few from Africa (Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, Uganda, Tanzania, Zimbabwe); a large bunch in Europe (Austria, Belgium, Czechia, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine), Mexico; New Zealand; and four others from South America (Argentina, Chile, Colombia and Peru).

The five South American countries along with the Spanish-speaking nations of the US, Mexico and Spain are particularly significant, as artists from those regions make up much of the viewership of YouTube these days. And contributed considerably to making ‘Despacito’ by Luis Fonsi and Daddy Yankee the most viewed video of all time, with over five billion hits.

Going back to the Top Artists chart, we find that acts from Puerto Rico, an “unincorporated territory” of the US, account for five of the slots in the top 10 (Ozuna, Bad Bunny, Darell, Daddy Yankee, Nio Garcia) and seven in the top 100 (when you add Casper Magico and Lui Fonsi). There are seven acts from Brazil (Mariala Mendonca, Kevinho, Anitta, Jorge & Mateus, Ze Neto & Cristiano, Wesley Safadao and MC Kekel); five from Colombia (J. Balvin, Maluma, Sebastian Yatra, Wolfine and Piso 21); and one from Argentina (Paulo Londra). Plus two from Mexico (Reik and Banda MS) and one each from the Dominican Republic (Natti Natasha); Panama (El Chombo) and Uruguay (Khea).

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That’s a total 25 out of 100 or 25 percent. Notably, this is leaving out US-born acts such as Nicky Jam, Romeo Santos and Ha*Ash as well those like Spain’s Enrique Iglesias, Colombia’s Shakira and New York native Jennifer Lopez who sing in both Spanish and English. In other words, while individually these countries have fewer entries than India, when they’re clubbed together, we’ve got nothing on this ongoing Spanish invasion. Just take a glance at the number of views commanded by those in the top five (the US’s Nicky Jam is No. 3, the UK’s Ed Sheeran is No. 5):

ARTIST COUNTRY RANK NO. OF VIEWS (IN MILLIONS)
Ozuna Puerto Rico/US 1 261
J Balvin Colombia 2 215
Bad Bunny Puerto Rico/US 4 184

The countries generating these views include Mexico, the US, Colombia, Argentina, Spain and Peru, all of which were bestowed with the newly launched charts. The main difference between the Spanish-language acts and their Indian counterparts is that while the former’s views are somewhat evenly spread across the aforementioned places and more, the majority of Bollywood and Punjabi singers’ views are concentrated within India. The diaspora, scattered across the world as it may be, is getting them a few (as opposed to tens of) millions of hits.

Interestingly, in response to Billboard’s recent decision to lower the weightage of chart points given to free streams, YouTube’s head of label relations, Stephen Bryan, told Rolling Stone magazine “Billboard is essentially saying the only music fans that count are music fans that have credit cards and are paying for subscriptions.” While this is not exactly true, it’s very likely that Billboard, which is a trade publication, is attempting, with these changes, to address the ‘value gap’ that record labels have been rallying against for years.

The value gap, as described by the IFPI, is “the mismatch between what uploaders are making from the music and what they’re returning to the industry”. As far as these uploaders go, YouTube is said to be the chief culprit. Also, while there are tools in place to limit fake streams, it’s less likely for paid streams to be rigged as compared to free streams.

When it comes to measuring popularity, there’s no doubt that YouTube counts as one of the best gauges of a song’s pervasiveness. Then again, so is Shazam, which tells you which tracks people are hearing in clubs, restaurants and gyms. The top tune on the Shazam India Top 100 right now is DJ Snake’s ‘Magenta Riddim’, which is also in the Top 5 on the iTunes downloads chart. Its video, which was filmed in Hyderabad and features the French electronic music producer dancing with a local firefighting team, is conspicuously absent from YouTube’s global chart. To me, that’s good enough reason for the service to launch an India survey stat.

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Amit Gurbaxani is a Mumbai-based journalist who has been writing about music, specifically the country's independent scene, for nearly two decades. He tweets @TheGroovebox


Updated Date: May 23, 2018 15:23 PM

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