Last week, YouTube hosted a launch event in Karachi to mark its return to the Pakistani market. While the local version, YouTube.pk had been live for over six months, this was the occasion to officially mark the re-emergence of one of the world’s most popular sites in Pakistan.
The two major announcements from the YouTube team were the introduction of partner accounts, and the save offline feature.
The first feature would mean that Pakistani content makers could now set up a system for earning from their view counts. Previously, one needed to set up an account abroad to earn anything from their YouTube accounts.
The second feature, save offline, is one YouTube has recently introduced in many of its developing markets, where internet speeds are too slow and unreliable to allow problem-free streaming.
Given my personal association with Pakistani music, I was wondering how YouTube’s return would impact the industry.
Globally, the numbers have shown that YouTube remains one of the most popular destinations for listening to music online, and even within YouTube itself music-related content accounts for the largest chunk of its audience.
In Pakistan too, the last few years that YouTube was around, it saw many artists populate it with their videos, as well as see the rise of a few YouTube stars who made skits or vlogs that gained popularity.
YouTube’s challenge is not just to get content makers and audiences away from Facebook, but also to encourage people to make videos again.
However, in the long hiatus for YouTube, the reality changed quite significantly. Despite a host of sites that would allow one to access YouTube via proxies etc, it was eventually Facebook’s video offerings that replaced the space left by YouTube. These pasts few years, Facebook has comfortably established its hold as the first choice for sharing and consuming video in Pakistan.
Yet there is a major drawback to that. While YouTube (and several other platforms) show you trending content, Facebook tends to stifle the reach of any upload unless more money is added to boost it. Even a video which goes viral on Facebook would soon find itself not appearing on other people’s timelines until the content uploaders add money to further promote it.
But while this may appear as an opportunity for YouTube, the fact is that the aforementioned factors have reduced music videos down to a trickle. Few artists can afford the costs of making a music video, and then being able to further promote it. While several have continued to make some great videos, they are a rare appearance.
In other words, YouTube’s challenge is not just to get content makers and audiences away from Facebook, but also to encourage people to make videos again.
In that sense, the partnership accounts offer a way forward. By earning from their views, content makers can look forward to an incentive to make more material. However, it is extremely unlikely that YouTube’s monetisation would be sufficient as a monetary return for the investment made in producing the content. Personally, I don’t see that as a factor in reviving video culture in Pakistan. However, what I do see happening is that a couple of viral videos can potentially swing audiences back towards YouTube.
Should such a change happen, the knock-on effects could be significant. The loss of music videos from popular culture has an impact on the popularity and consumption of music itself. Quite often, music videos serve as the gateway point towards exploring a musician or a genre further. If audiences become used to consuming music via videos again, it would encourage greater (and less corporate-driven) investment into making new music. This is where the save offline feature would also emerge as the more important of the two new features, as consumers would no longer be tied to the vagaries of poor internet connections to stream content.
In other words, there is space to be cautiously optimistic but it all depends on how soon, and how well content makers return to YouTube’s platform.
Patari Top Charts
As always, I’ll be ending the column with a recount of the top 20 Pakistani songs heard on patari.pk last week.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the charts are almost completely dominated by Coke Studio, with the new Cornetto Pop Rock track – 'Dildara' by Noori and Ali Azmat – breaking the monopoly.
'Paar Channa De' and 'Afreen Afreen' at numbers two and three have emerged as the most resiliently popular songs from the season, and Momina Mustehsan the breakout star. The two songs have been near the top five for their entire run, while Momina’s songs have all graced the number one spot at various points of the season.
Apart from the mainstream releases, there have actually been a number of superb releases from indie and underground artists over the past few weeks.
Here is a playlist that collects a bunch of those releases, which run a wide spectrum of styles but are each quite exciting in their originality.