In 2011, when Vinoth Chandar saw how excited his daughter, Harshita, got after watching the viral video Charlie Bit My Finger, he wanted to upload a video on YouTube featuring her in the lead role. He recorded everything he needed but had a change of mind at the last moment. “It was too early to expose her to world,” he says.
Instead, he created a 2D character of her called ChuChu (as she is fondly known), gave it an identity and made an animated video. Harshita’s positive response to this video encouraged Vinoth to create a brand — ChuChu TV — that engages with kids between the ages of two to four through animated nursery rhymes and stories.
In 2013, he uploaded his first video called Chubby Cheeks . In two weeks it got close to two lakh views. “I was taken aback. Most views came from outside India. I didn’t expect that,” he says. After that, there’s been no looking back for Vinoth (Creative Director of ChuChu TV Studios) and his partners BM Krishnan (Creative Head), Ajith Togo (Head - Legal), Suresh Bhoopathy (Head - Operations and HR) and Subbiramanian TS (Head - Finance and Partnerships).
As of April 2018, ChuChu TV Nursery Rhymes & Kids Songs is ranked the world’s most popular children-themed YouTube channel, with almost 17 million subscribers (16,871,687 to be precise). The channel ranks third in the list of India’s most popular YouTube channels based on subscribers and is fourth in terms of video views (13,761,937,072 views).
In a time when everyone’s trying to be a YouTube superstar, how did ChuChu TV gather such a following, not just in India but world-over? “In the last year alone 1,000-2,000 kids’ channels were launched. In that sense, everyone is a competitor. Even when we launched there were 20-30 popular kids-themed channels. The way to stand apart is to produce content that is unique. This involves learning from others and not viewing them as competition,” explains Vinoth.
ChuChu TV takes popular rhymes, such as Jack and Jill , Johnny Johnny Yes Papa and Twinkle Twinkle Little Star , and gives them a twist. Twinkle Twinkle… was the second video they uploaded. “With just two videos we had 5,000 subscribers.” That’s when the app developers decided to do this full-time. “We each put in ₹1 lakh, hired a couple of animators and started ChuChu TV Studios,” says Vinoth.
Though the initial five to seven releases went well, there was something missing. Krishna, the creative mind in the group, had the answer. “Krishna noticed that most nursery rhymes are negative and don’t have any meaning to them. Humpty Dumpty … has roots in the English Civil War, Ring a Ring o' Roses is supposed to be about the Great Plague… That’s when we decided to rewrite these rhymes and teach the kids something,” explains Vinoth.
Jack and Jill was the first rhyme Krishna rewrote. The new lines read: “Where there is will there is a way; you got to walk all the way; try and try, with your head high, you will succeed faster.” Instead of giving up after the fall, the siblings are inspired by hard-working ants and birds to try until their task is complete. “This little change was a hit among the viewers and changed everything for us.”
How does the team cater to a worldwide audience? Vinoth explains, “When we started, we had two characters — ChuChu and ChaCha — and they were both white kids. After 10 videos we got messages from Nigeria asking if this was only for white kids. That’s when we introduced two coloured characters — Chiku and Chika.”
He narrates another incident that highlights the cultural differences among regions, “In the first version of Johnny Johnny… we had Johnny and his father sleeping in the same room, which is normal in India. But we got complaints from many parents in the West who didn’t approve of the two sharing a room. We were stunned by this response but released another version where the two sleep in different rooms. The video got 1.45 million views. It is the most watched video in our channel and the 43rd most watched video on YouTube!”
Talking about ChuChu TV’s revenue model, Vinoth says, “Along with the investment each of us put in, we have income coming in from YouTube. It helps that we have a global appeal as some countries have lower ad revenues when compared with others. The US, India, the Philippines, Vietnam, the UK, Canada and the UAE are the top countries in terms of revenue generation for us. In two years we broke even and began making profits. We also recently signed a deal with Amazon Prime, which helped us further. This is why we don’t want outside investors.”
With one YouTube Diamond Play Button, three YouTube Gold Play Button and six YouTube Silver Play Button awards, ChuChu TV is able to stand on its own feet without much help.