According to ChuChu, its two largest markets are the United States and India, which together generate about one-third of its views. But each month, tens of millions of views also pour in from the U.K., Canada, Mexico, Australia, and all over Asia and Africa. Roughly 20 million times a day, a caretaker somewhere on Earth fires up YouTube and plays a ChuChu video. What began as a lark has grown into something very, very big, inflating the company’s ambitions. “We want to be the next Disney,” Chandar told me.
YouTube entered into a marketing and advertising partnership with NBC in June 2006. In March 2007, it struck a deal with BBC for three channels with BBC content, one for news and two for entertainment. In November 2008, YouTube reached an agreement with MGM, Lions Gate Entertainment, and CBS, allowing the companies to post full-length films and television episodes on the site, accompanied by advertisements in a section for U.S. viewers called "Shows". The move was intended to create competition with websites such as Hulu, which features material from NBC, Fox, and Disney. In November 2009, YouTube launched a version of "Shows" available to UK viewers, offering around 4,000 full-length shows from more than 60 partners. In January 2010, YouTube introduced an online film rentals service, which is only available to users in the United States, Canada, and the UK as of 2010. The service offers over 6,000 films.
ChuChu’s founders aren’t blind to the power of new-media platforms, or the undertow of crappy YouTube producers, or the addictive power of devices, but the magnitude and improbability of their success more than balance the scales. They don’t quite seem to know why (or how, exactly) they’ve been given this opportunity to speak to millions from an office in South India, but they’re not going to throw away the chance. After all, there are so many stories to tell.
ChuChu does not employ the weird keyword-stuffed titles used by lower-rent YouTube channels. The company’s titles are simple, sunny, consistent. Its theory of media is that good stuff wins, which is why its videos have won. “We know what our subscribers want, and we give it to them,” Chandar says. ChuChu says it adds roughly 40,000 subscribers a day.
The ChuChu guys didn’t set out to make educational programming. They were just making videos for fun. How were they to know they’d become a global force in children’s entertainment? As time went on and the staff expanded, the company created a teaching series, called Learning English Is Fun, and worked with a preschool company to develop an app, ChuChu School, that has an explicitly didactic purpose. But generally speaking, Chandar and Krishnan just wanted their videos to be wholesome—to deliver entertainment that perhaps provided kids with a dose of moral instruction.
The world of YouTube is vastly different from the world of broadcast television. While broadcasters in the United States and abroad are bound by rules, and the threat of punishment for breaking those rules, far fewer such regulations apply to the creators of YouTube content, or to YouTube itself. YouTube’s default position is that no one under 13 is watching videos on its site—because that’s the minimum age allowed under its terms of service. In addition to its main site, however, the company has developed an app called YouTube Kids. Like normal YouTube, it plays videos, but the design and content are specifically made for parents and children. It’s very good. It draws on the expertise of well-established children’s-media companies. Parents can restrict their children’s viewing in a multitude of ways, such as allowing access only to content handpicked by PBS Kids. But here’s the problem: Just a small fraction of YouTube’s 1.9 billion monthly viewers use it. (YouTube Kids is not available in as many countries as normal YouTube is.)
On my last day in the ChuChu offices, Krishnan related a parable to me from the Mahābhārata, a Sanskrit epic. A prince wants to be known as generous, so the god Krishna decides to put him to the test: He creates two mountains of gold and tells the prince to give it all away in 24 hours. The prince begins to do so, parceling it out to people he thinks need it. But as the day ends he’s hardly made a dent in the mountains. So Krishna calls another prince and tells him he has just five minutes to give away the gold. This prince sees two people walking along, goes right over to them, and gives each a mountain. Just like that, the job is done. The moral is unsettling, but simple: Don’t impose limits on your generosity.
In April 2013, it was reported that Universal Music Group and YouTube have a contractual agreement that prevents content blocked on YouTube by a request from UMG from being restored, even if the uploader of the video files a DMCA counter-notice. When a dispute occurs, the uploader of the video has to contact UMG. YouTube's owner Google announced in November 2015 that they would help cover the legal cost in select cases where they believe fair use defenses apply.
But from where I’m sitting, these videos are a lot like the TV show Jackass – which was on MTV between 2000 and 2002. The show featured self-injuring stunts including inserting a toy car into one cast member’s anus, snorting wasabi, and tattooing in a moving off-road vehicle. The show was broadcast before 10pm, prior to a campaign led by US Senator Joe Lieberman to remove it.
In May 2011, 48 hours of new videos were uploaded to the site every minute, which increased to 60 hours every minute in January 2012, 100 hours every minute in May 2013, 300 hours every minute in November 2014, and 400 hours every minute in February 2017. As of January 2012, the site had 800 million unique users a month. It is estimated that in 2007 YouTube consumed as much bandwidth as the entire Internet in 2000. According to third-party web analytics providers, Alexa and SimilarWeb, YouTube is the second-most visited website in the world, as of December 2016; SimilarWeb also lists YouTube as the top TV and video website globally, attracting more than 15 billion visitors per month. In October 2006, YouTube moved to a new office in San Bruno, California.