PewDiePie has reigned as king of YouTube for the past five years, but a new challenger is close to overthrowing him to become the most subscribed channel on the platform. The usurper is T-Series, India’s most popular platform for music. They are the most viewed YouTube channel with over 54 billion views. However, if this is a competition, the playing field is not even. While PewDiePie has had to earn each of his subscribers with hard work, T-Series’ numbers have been boosted by an auto-subscribe mechanic, their main source of subscribers.
Felix “PewDiePie” Kjellberg has been a part of the YouTube community since 2010. Starting in Sweden, now based in the United States, his channel was known for his gaming content in the form of Let’s Plays–a popular YouTube format where the gamer plays a video game while recording his reactions and commentary. In addition to this, PewDiePie also used to post some animated short films which were very popular. Recently, Felix has been reacting to some of the Internet’s latest trends and memes, hence the name of his show Meme Review. For the every YouTuber, there are milestones. When they achieve a certain number of subscribers, they earn a different play button plaque. The main three are Silver, Gold and Diamond. But on December 8th, 2016, with 50,000,000 subscribers, PewDiePie received the first ever ruby Play Button. At the time, it was a great feat for a solo YouTube creator to achieve a brand new milestone. T-Series was the second channel to get the ruby Play Button, now they both are well over 75 million subscribers.
T-Series is a platform for Bollywood film trailers and Indian music videos, similar to VEVO, a joint venture between many big music companies in North America. In 1983, the T-Series website was founded by Gulshan Kumar. The current owners and directors are Bhushan and Kishan Kumar. They started in the pirating industry much like YouTube’s own early days when people posted lots of movies on YouTube. T-Series would have a monthly subscription where you could pay, and you would have access to VHS of movies that just came out. Around the 1990s, they started to produce their own music and movies, starting with traditional Indian music. In recent years, their productions have been more westernized with English lyrics in the songs and entire English movie scripts. With over a billion people in India, T-Series has a large potential audience. But one of the reasons it has been able to convert that population into actual channel subscriptions is due to a deal with YouTube.
Each person in India that makes a YouTube account, is automatically subscribed to T-Series. So, just before T-Series becomes the top YouTube channel, PewDiePie was gaining around 30,000 subscribers a day, while T-Series was gaining 100,000 subscribers a day–no doubt, a significant number of which come via this autosubscribe mechanic. Because of this, a lot of people are outraged, complaining that YouTube is broken and rigged. When you compare the two channels, T-Series has a huge advantage. They have hundreds of employees and even more artists or actors who contribute to the company. Considering that PewDiePie is not a big company like T-Series, his achievement remains impressive.
On October 21, 2018, PewDiePie made a Q&A video giving his thoughts on T-Series. “I don’t really care about T-Series,” he stated. “I think that if YouTube does shift in a way that’s more corporate… something else will take its place.” He is suggesting that YouTube may eventually only feature big companies while aspiring content creators, for whom YouTube can be a hobby and a career, will end up finding a different media site to post their content.
This may be a reasonable prediction, looking at where YouTube is now. More and more companies have been joining YouTube to promote themselves. Take WWE for example. Recently they have become the tenth most subscribed channel. It is not long before many more companies join the leaderboard, pushing out the individual users who once put the “You” in YouTube. If PewDiePie’s prediction comes true, YouTube obviously will still exist but will have a very different feeling and identity.
Many YouTubers work very hard to make good quality content for their fans, gaining subscribers through the quality of their work, while T-Series with its deep pockets, is buying subscribers. When PewDiePie’s channel, which started out as a hobby, became the most subscribed channel, it was truly something to be proud of. The achievement of this a big production company who creates content in studios doesn’t really compare. Even though T-Series is going to pass him, Felix will still be watched by millions of people and still will be the #1 solo YouTube creator. That will still mean something to those of us who have grown up with YouTube and appreciated its original focus: giving regular, everyday people a chance to be media producers. The changes we see happening now may lead to YouTube becoming just another big media corporation.