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Viral Jani is EVP & Country Head, India, Times Bridge.
Arrival of the new micro-entrepreneur
India has long been reputed for its entrepreneurial spirit. The country has forged 100 unicorns; beyond those, over 63 million micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) provide employment to hundreds of millions of workers across sectors. And, in the past few years, the country has witnessed the emergence of a new type of micro-entrepreneur: the content creator. Think travel bloggers, comedians, foodies and even Virat Kohli, minus the cricket bat.
These digital-age, creatively-oriented entrepreneurs—known as creators—are participating in the passion economy, through which they can share their skills and personality as monetizable brands. Creators reach their audience through a platform, like YouTube or Instagram, while often (but not always) marketing themselves on social media channels. In the last ten years, the passion economy has swelled to over $100 billion globally, creating significant value for creators, platforms and other players. In India, content consumption on passion economy platforms doubled within one year of the pandemic, as lockdowns pushed users online and compelled many workers to find new sources of income.
In a world that increasingly relies on social media, every online interaction presents an opportunity for companies and advertisers, who now see social commerce as a key part of their marketing strategy. They are tapping into the power of consumers finding ideas, products and entertainment through people they know or admire. Meanwhile, those who create content relish the flexibility not available in traditional corporate jobs. Above all, it has become sustainable—with comprehensive benefits and lucrative pay, in some cases—to convert a passion into profit. 
Indian users crave content
In India, a confluence of factors have created a massive and growing audience that constitutes a huge demand for content. Network coverage has improved and gotten cheaper—starting at less than $2 per month—thanks to deep telecom penetration and substantial industry changes. The rapid adoption of online connectivity among India’s 1.2 billion phone subscribers occurred alongside the omnipresence of cheap, 4G smartphones. The ease and normalization of new fintech platforms and UPI (India’s inter-bank payment system) have established high trust in digital payments among the general public, including the 190 million Indians who now transact online. 
This environment has created an insatiable demand for content. Indian users already spend more time online—over 5 hours a day for smartphone users!—than those in other countries, including China. The trends are equally impressive when looking more closely at specific forms of content. Bain & Company reports that the Indian short-form video (SFV) market has grown dramatically in the past two years, with its user base tripling and total time spent consuming SFVs increasing 12-fold. There are presently over 200 million Indians watching SFVs, and that figure could rise to 650 million by 2025, according to the consulting firm. And while Indian audiences are mesmerized by celebrity star power, 70% of the current user base hails from Tier-II and -III cities and small towns, which provides an opportunity for creators to find a niche outside of big cities.
A vibrant array of creators
India’s user base is expected to grow considerably given the vibrancy of its creator landscape, with an estimated 100 million creators spread across categories, languages and regions. Big-ticket celebrities and, more recently, micro-influencers and regional creators are profoundly shaping India’s digital culture. Creators from Tier-II and -III cities add diverse content in regional languages that are relatable to their fan bases. Beyond content categories that appeal to mass audiences (think: food, travel, and tech), regional creators have found unique niches in exotic parrots, Punjabi songs, and the famous sounds of Chennai. These regional niches sometimes spread beyond a creator’s immediate vicinity and catch on among fans across India and beyond. Over 3,000 Indian creators have already amassed at least one million subscribers or followers across platforms.
The bigger the audience, the more routes to monetization. These options range from subscription content to product recommendations, ticketed experiences and exclusive paid communities. Creators who are able to find a niche and hook their audience can—and have—earned handsomely. India’s highest-paid YouTuber, 22-year-old Carry Minati, reportedly earned $4 million from his gaming and comedy videos. But such instances remain uncommon.
The role and opportunity for digital platforms
Digital platforms, given their creator dependence, have an incentive to lure and support promising creators that have a big reach. In a competitive market like India, where over half a dozen start-ups are vying to become the default replacement for TikTok, the quality of content can be a key differentiator. India’s most celebrated founders and top creators have invested in creator empowerment platforms to nurture and scale the passion economy ecosystem. Several existing platforms are also helping creators pave their growth stories. The varied offerings have included YouTube’s crash courses and Facebook’s music distribution capabilities for independent artists.
In India, even after collecting a base of followers, it has proved difficult for creators to monetize. Opportunity lies within India’s passion economy for a standout platform that democratizes monetization, given that only a small percentage of creators are primed to produce the high-quality content that generates substantial compensation. While models like live-streaming and social commerce have emerged as meaningful revenue streams, other creators rely on promoting a plethora of consumer goods, CPG and direct-selling brands. Left behind are the long tail and niche creators, demonstrating a huge need-gap for platforms that can democratize monetization. In the U.S. and elsewhere, platforms like Patreon and Substack fill this gap by creating opportunities for fans to become patrons. India awaits a platform to win over this role, which would provide monetization routes for a greater number of creators and reduce their dependence on brands. 
The success of passion economy platforms in India will be self-determined. Available data suggest that the supply of creators and demand for content will remain robust. Thus, enough space exists for global players and homegrown competitors to take advantage of India’s untapped market opportunity.
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Views expressed above are the author’s own.
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Interested in blogging for timesofindia.com? We will be happy to have you on board as a blogger, if you have the knack for writing. Just drop in a mail at toiblogs@timesinternet.in with a brief bio and we will get in touch with you.
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