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 president. “Now people all over the world know what is T-Series.”
The journey of the music company started in the 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 catalogue in Bollywood — 180,000 tracks — and produces as many as 20 films a year.