Each day in India’s capital New Delhi, hundreds of thousands of people take the quiet subway across the widely crowded suburbs to reach their work. The quietness is interrupted every few minutes as the train reaches a station and an ever-growing population jostles to find a seat. Seconds later, everyone returns their attention to their smartphone screen, resuming the comedy sketch they were watching on YouTube.
More than 7,500 miles away, executives at Netflix are scrambling for new strategies to court this audience. Earlier this year, CEO Reed Hastings, who has identified sleep as the biggest competition of his service on multiple occasions, wondered out loud if the next 100 million Netflix subscribers are in India.
They probably are, but YouTube, not sleep, has already claimed them.
Despite Netflix and Amazon investing billions of dollars in producing original content, they are struggling to make inroads in emerging markets. YouTube, on the other hand, is growing rapidly, becoming a daily habit for even new internet users.
YouTube’s grip on emerging markets
In India, for instance, YouTube reaches 245 million unique users each month, or 85 percent of all internet users in the country, the company told VentureBeat. About 60 percent of all YouTube traffic in India comes from outside of its six major cities.
In Indonesia, YouTube reaches about 74 million active users each month, Google revealed at an event this week, an increase of over 50 percent year-over-year. In Thailand, YouTube reaches 92 percent of rural users and 93 percent of urban users.
“I think one of the main reasons YouTube is so successful in emerging markets is that it is more mobile-centric. Short-form video lends itself to mobile viewing vs. long form. It is not particularly comfortable watching a 2-hour movie on your phone,” explains Michael Goodman, Director of Television & Media Strategies at research firm Strategy Analytics.
— Kawaljit Singh Bedi (@kawaljit) November 13, 2018
As consumption on YouTube grows, creators are also finding loyal audiences. In India alone, YouTube now has more than 600 channels with more than 1 million subscribers, up from 20 channels in 2016. Record label T-Series, which is fighting with PewDiePie for the title of most-subscribed YouTube channel, took 10 years to get to its first 10 million subscribers. In the last two years, it has grown to 60 million subscribers. Globally, YouTube says the number of channels with more than 1 million subscribers has grown by 75 percent this year.
To fast-track its growth and reach, Google maintains deals with an unspecified number of internet service providers worldwide to treat YouTube’s traffic differently. For one, several telecom operators and broadband providers do not count a user’s YouTube consumption against their monthly data plan. To an extent, YouTube also benefits from the pallet of apps that ship pre-installed on the vast majority of Android handsets.
The massive reach of YouTube
The success of YouTube, which is used by 1.9 billion logged-in users each month, however, is not limited to developing markets. Of all the users who watch any streaming service in the United States, 96.1 percent consume YouTube and 73.8 percent consume Netflix, according to eMarketer’s 2018 estimates:
Globally, YouTube told VentureBeat that 75 percent of the platform’s watch time occurs on a mobile device. The average watch time for a mobile user is 60 minutes per day. Or in other words, this is the time a user could have spent watching Netflix (the point Hastings was driving at when he said sleep is Netflix’s competition is people spending a lot of time sleeping). According to eMarketer’s estimates, an average user would spend about 86 minutes per day watching digital videos on streaming services this year. (Netflix does not reveal individual viewing time.)
Analysts VentureBeat spoke to said that some of the recent moves YouTube has made could further boost its userbase and consumption. Last month, YouTube began adding full feature length Hollywood movies to the website. And a few days later, the company announced that it would be making original content available to non-paying users. (eMarketer analyst Paul Verna, however, noted that the move also underscores the difficulty in monetizing content through payments.)
But perhaps the biggest advantage that YouTube has over Netflix is the breadth of its catalog and how much of it is available to users at no cost. Whether it is speeches made at Oxford Union, government press conferences made available by C-Span, or daily U.S. talk shows, the platform serves a variety of needs.
Strategy Analytics’ Goodman added that despite all the investment YouTube makes to produce original programming and license movies, it only amounts to a tiny percentage of its total content library. “In the grand scheme of things, the amount of viewing original content and movies is just a drop in the bucket compared to the rest of what is consumed on YouTube,” he said. In other words, Netflix and Amazon and 100 other OTT services are not fighting one entity in YouTube, they are competing with millions of content creators.
— Het Dagli (@DagliHet) December 1, 2018
Even as Netflix does not classify YouTube as a threat, it is apparent that the company acknowledges its existence each day. If you frequent YouTube, odds are you have already encountered Netflix ads there. Netflix also counts on YouTube to find a larger audience. Just look at its new weekly show “Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj.” The Patriot Act’s YouTube channel offers all its episodes for free.