Since Youtube was launched in 2005, a growing number of individuals have found popularity and riches through exhibiting their unique videos. Youtube videos can be big business for top independent content creators. According to Business Insider, Sweden’s PewDiePie is the most popular Youtuber in the world. His estimated yearly income is between $825,000- $8.47 million.
Sri Lankans have found internet fame as well. Jehanr, Gappiya and the KushanSrimal show have views of over 100,000 and devoted fan bases. As part of our series on social media usage, we analysed these Sri Lankan Youtube celebrities and their attempt to create original audio visual content for a Lankan audience.
The Sunday Times names Jehanr (Jehan Ranatunga) as the most famous Sri Lankan on Youtube. He is described as someone who with his ‘hilarious videos, ‘S*** Sri Lankan Mothers Say’, ‘How to Dance Baila’, How to Speak Sri Lankan’ and more recently, ‘The Sri Lankan victory song’ has globalised the essence of Sri Lankanness’. Jehan’s rise to fame has been extraordinary. His fame even garnered him a spot in the prestigious Youtube rewind for 2012 which pays tribute to the site’s biggest stars.
Jehanr first came into the public eye through the video S*** Sri Lankan Mothers Say, a parody of ‘S*** Girls Say. He is beloved for his Sri Lankan uncle/aunt impersonations. Jehan’s most famous hit is called the ‘perfect smooth criminal lean’ and has over 1.8 million views. The S*** Sri Lankan Mothers Say video has also been watched over 1.5 million times. This is very impressive since web usage in Sri Lanka is comparatively at a low level. In fact, Jehan is in a class of his own; he works at Youtube and the quality of his work exemplifies that.
Tharindu Wijesekara or Gappiya, as he is known on Youtube, is a Sri Lankan expatriate living in Australia who has found internet fame through his collection of satirical social commentaries. Tharindu, speaking to the Sunday Times magazine, says that he tried to be the ‘Aussie guy’ for a while but that did not work out. So now he is just unapologetically himself.
Gappiya is a name that he was christened with at school because he was a fast runner. On his channel though, Gappiya sings,dances, acts and raps. His Youtube channel was born as a result of loneliness and boredom. It caters for ‘Sri Lankans, Australians and Homo Sapiens’. His first video was called Foreign bulls*** and to Gappiya’s surprise it went viral. This encouraged him to make more videos. He has limited resources: a Canon 650D, a RODE mic, a Macbook Pro and a pair of Pioneer headphones. His most popular video, ‘It’s ok baby’ has more than 92,000 views while the ‘Sri Lankan spider man’ video has over 82,000 views. He has garnered more than 20,000 likes and over 10,000 has subscribed to his channel. Gappiya has only recently found internet fame and only time will tell of how he will fare in the future.
Unlike Jehanr and Gappiya, the Kushan Srimal show is not done by expatriate Sri Lankans. The duo create funny videos that garner thousands of views on a weekly basis. The videos cover an array of themes: the ‘best toothbrush ever, Movies vs real life, Ex – alien and us, thambili vs cream soda, mission of toy soldiers’ etc. The duo has been termed the best thing on Lankan Youtube since Jehanr and were honoured at the Colombo Mashable Social Media Day 2013 held at Park Street Mews.
The Kushan Srimal act is young and creative and tries hard to pursue their passion of making great videos. They believe that money should not be an issue and they hope to inspire other youngsters who have ideas but do not know how to implement them. It is also encouraging that Kushan and Srimal are still studying at university. The video ‘Ex- Alien and us’ has been watched over 179,000 times while their ‘Sinhala songs in real life’ video has been watched over 160,000 times. Their fan base is strong with over 30,000 subscribing to their channel.
All the channels that we examined use humour to great effect. However, while Gappiya and Jehanr use subtle humour, the Kushan Srimal show has a more direct approach. Gappiya and Jehanr seem to target the high end Sri Lankan internet user (urban, english speaking) while the Kushan Srimal show tends to target the general Sri Lankan internet population. We can assume that all these Youtube celebrities earn a lot as they have a considerable number of subscribers and their videos garner a large number of views.
There is much canvassing for likes and all the channels are active on Facebook. Jehanr is the complete ‘social media butterfly’ with accounts in Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, Google+ etc. The use of unique Sri Lankan elements is popular. Cricket, Sri Lankan idiosyncrasies, foreigners mistaking Sri Lankans as Indians, Sri Lankan food and laughing at politicians are used with good effect to identify with the viewer. Gappiya tries to tell stories through his videos. In this sense he is unique. Some of his videos have a ‘short story’ effect with viewers experiencing epiphany at the end; It’s ok baby, the robber and the Sri Lankan spider man are in this category.
Jehanr, Gappiya and KushanSrimal can take more steps to reach out to their audience. Question and answer sessions on Twitter or Elakiri.com could prove useful. The biggest Youtube celebrity, Pewdiepie has hosted a couple of AMA sessions on Reddit. These have proved popular since it gives fans the opportunity to interact with their idols on a personal basis. In fact, there is a lot that can be learnt from Pewdiepie. Using his celebrity status, the Swede has collected money for charity amounting to more than 1 million dollars. Jehanr also recently made an appeal from his fans to fund the Educate Lanka Foundation. This was so successful that afterwards he released a video saying that they had crashed the Educate Lanka website. Such acts would resonate with philanthropically inclined fans and collect much needed funds for charity..
Blogging is another way to connect with fans, a compelling blog can do wonders for popularity. Jenna Marbles is the sixth richest Youtube celebrity; her ‘how to videos’ generate a huge number of views and she has over 13 million subscribers. She maintains a comic blog called ‘Welcome to our madness’. In it she promotes her channel and logs her daily life for inquisitive fans. We can assume that an active blog by jehanr or gappiya would attract a lot of attention.
Joint video collaborations would also be welcomed with open arms. In August 2013 after Pewdiepie became the most subscribed Youtube channel of all time, he uploaded a collaboration with Ian Hecox and Anthony Padilla of Smosh, the channel that formerly held the title; this video got over 3 million views. On Jehanr’s Facebook page, fans are already clamouring for a collaboration between him and Gappiya. Pewdiepie and Jenna Marbles have released a range of merchandize for their fans, among them are mugs, t-shirts and toys. With time our Sri Lankan celebrities too can think about selling merchandize. For them the sky is the limit.