They are young, mostly under 30, run their own companies, jet set around the world like it is nobody’s business and make hundreds of millions of rupiahs recording videos of themselves
They turn down television deals and, with their own quantifiable online audience and self-produced videos, these are people who do not have the slightest worry about ratings or “getting axed.”
Behind the scenes: Indonesia’s most prolific YouTubers
With more than 50 million Indonesians visiting YouTube every month, according to App Annie, YouTube is indeed on the rise. According to Cantika Wangiandara from Google Indonesia, mobile watch time grew 155 percent in 2016 while uploads grew a staggering 278 percent. The numbers have encouraged the birth of screen celebs who have not only impacted social media, but also mainstream media.
“I still watch the news on TV, but on a daily basis I use my television to watch YouTube,” said Edho Zell, 26, who has over 1.5 million followers on YouTube. Having set out to have a career in TV, Edho previously used YouTube as a place to pool his audition videos. He ended up forming an audience of his own without realizing it and has built a career as a content creator on YouTube ever since.
The shift in the availability of and access to technology has enabled content creators to make their own content, putting themselves out there in a carefully crafted manner.
Social media observer Enda Nasution said the rise of Indonesia’s YouTube content creators was part of the Indonesian digital economy narrative. “We still need content, mainly of the positive kind. Thanks to digital platforms and technology, now content creators are able to focus and produce their content independently,” he said.
Thirty-year-old Jennifer Bachdim, wife of Indonesian footballer Irfan Bachdim, made her mark in the YouTube world after publishing her fashion, lifestyle and beauty blog. Now known mostly as a vlogger (video blogger), Jennifer does her filming, editing, content planning and uploading on her own. “When I first started with YouTube, I didn’t even think about getting money out of it,” she said. “It was and still is pure passion. I love sharing vlogs, my daily life and struggles, how I raise my children, etc. It’s beautiful and getting positive feedback is great. If I can help people out there I am more than happy.”
Malang-based comedy YouTuber Bayu Eko Moektito aka Bayu Skak, 23, told The Jakarta Post about his similar start. Although he started making YouTube videos in 2010, he only monetized his channel in 2012.
“In 2012, I received a phone call from a multi-channel network [MCN] called Famous.ID, informing me about YouTube’s monetizing system, the ads on videos and more,” he recalled. An MCN is a third-party service that affiliates with YouTube channels, offering services such as audience-growing assistance, content programming, content creator collaboration, digital rights management, monetization and sales. Bayu is a member of Famous.ID.
While MCNs offer YouTube-related services, another kind of third-party agency, Avenu, connects brands with content creators. Desy Bachir, co-founder of the company, saw the shift in marketing in which consumers have built trust in key opinion leaders and become more drawn to content instead of brand advertising, and decided to tap into the opportunity, focusing on women’s interests.
“We manage content creators on multiple platforms where they create content,” Desy said. “We focus on creating content and engaging the communities of the creators, while also working together on brand campaigns.”
Currently in its second year of operation, Desy is optimistic about her business. “With the increasing trend of ad blocking and more evidence that consumers are becoming receptive to brand messaging in the form of native content, we see that this business is still going to be lucrative and sustainable in the long run,” she stated.
Although a lot of budding content creators use services offered by agencies like Avenu, those who have already gone pro embrace their independence. Chandra Liow, 26, had an unfortunate incident regarding his relationship with a management company. “I joined a management company last year without a contract. We had issues in payment and communication,” he said. Chandra also found it easier to communicate with brands directly instead of going through the agency.
Leon Zheyoung, also known as Guntur of LASTDAY Production, which focuses on comedy sketches, prefers to work with his own crew, rather than with a management company. “We’re comfortable doing it on our own,” he said. The group currently employs eight crew members to produce videos.
Fellow content creator, 26-year-old Arief Muhammad, who also has his own crew, echoed Guntur’s opinion, “I started my daily vlogs in 2016 and did them all by myself; from camera work, editing and being the talent.”
Arief even wondered why the videos he produced with concepts that were carefully thought out did not earn many views, while the ones shot and edited more casually attracted more viewers. “That’s what confuses me about YouTube, well-crafted videos don’t always guarantee a lot of views. Maybe it’s the timing and the right formula that affect the viewership,” he said.
Fathia Izzati, on the other hand, found being within a management company very helpful in forming her place in the industry. “I don’t hang out with YouTube creators, and once I was in a management company, I found out that there were so many people like me,” she said. “I joined [the company] because I felt the need to stop being ignorant. And they really helped me find other opportunities, not only business-wise, because they do look for clients, brands that would want to work with me, but other than that it’s like a community.”
Joining a management company also helps creative forces like Agung Hapsah do his paperwork. “I hate doing any logistical things, I don’t want to do paperwork, I don’t like signing things. So I prefer to have a manager, like my manager Walfi Nuneza. I don’t have to negotiate with brands,” he said. “I prefer to stay on the creative side and have all the paperwork done by somebody else. So, mainly, I joined the management just because I am very lazy,” he said with a laugh.
The burning question regarding this new breed of celebrities is ultimately: “How much money do they make?”
Kevin Anggara, 20, who has been vlogging for three years, did not disclose the exact number, but he did paint a clear picture. “What I gained from commissioned videos on YouTube is enough to pay my university tuition. The money earned from YouTube itself, if I save it, is also enough to pay my tuition,” he said. “Since the 12th grade in high school, I have paid my own school tuition, even before YouTube when I used to write for clients [on my blog]. I haven’t bothered my parents with financial matters since.”
The more productive the content creators are, the more income they generate. Bayu Skak admits to getting an average of US$2,000 per month, and the number may increase to $6,000 when there are collaborations with brands.
Fathia Izzati, however, said there were bad days when the numbers were low. “It all depends on how many videos you upload, how interesting they are and the watch time it gets. But even during ‘bad months’, it's enough. It's more than enough, actually. I’d say it can be anywhere from Rp 8 million [$600] to, I don’t know, like Rp 15 to Rp 20 million,” she said.
Although most YouTube content creators would not disclose their monthly income or the money they accepted for special projects, they said their earnings were above average. “I do admit my earnings are above what the average office worker in Jakarta gets, although there is no guarantee of a fixed monthly income. I’m convinced if YouTube continues to be a popular platform, it is one profession to consider,” Arief Muhammad said.
Andovi da Lopez, 23, and his brother Jovial da Lopez, 27, who are known under their YouTube moniker skinnyindonesian24, expressed concerns about the over-exposure of content creators’ earnings. “Here’s why we don’t want to disclose [our earnings]; it’s because we’re scared that people then will go into this business just wanting [the money]. They don’t want to do the hard stuff,” Jovial said, “It’s dumb. We did not get here that fast.”
Andovi echoed his brother’s statement. “People must understand that it’s a process. All I want to say is, we’re making a good living from it, and if you want to do it, it takes a lot of hard work.”
The brothers’ latest initiative, Beasiswa Da Lopez (The Da Lopez Scholarship), which celebrates their 1,000,000 subscribers, voices out strong opposition on clickbait tactics, such as giveaways, commonly implemented by other YouTube content creators. Jovial told the Post, “Children today are deceived. Some of them have hard lives and they’re like, you know what, I’m just going to become a YouTuber and get money. But that should not be the mentality. [They should] study.” Andovi agreed. “That’s why we made the scholarship from our own money. To provide them with an education,” he said.
While it is important to give back to the community, the Da Lopez brothers also realize the importance of paying taxes. “I made an NPWP [tax identification number] when I was still in university and [the tax officials] literally asked why I made one. It is my own initiative,” Andovi said. Jovial wonders about his position as a taxpayer, “It is unclear what we are in the tax laws. Are we businessmen? Are we a ‘simple business’? It needs to be clear.”
According to Directorate General of Taxation spokesman Hestu Yoga Saksama, a YouTube content creator is seen as a regular taxpayer. “They have an income, as long as it’s above the PTKP [non-taxable income level], they must have a tax identification number, declare how much their income is on their annual tax report, count their taxes and pay,” he said. The rate, Hestu added, is the same as what is outlined in the income tax article.
The wave of YouTube content creators has also impacted brands and their marketing strategies. Contrary to popular belief that brands only take note of YouTubers with huge followings, brands also observe the personalities of each content creator. Muhammad Firman, head of Asus public relations and e-marketing, said, “We select them based on their history with Asus products or whether they use IT products and how they influence their community.” The YouTubers’ hobbies, background activities, community involvement and video style are among other factors considered by a brand before engaging them in marketing campaigns.
Karmela Christy, marketing and strategic relations manager of Education New Zealand, recently involved Fathia Izzati and Bayu Skak in the company’s promotional activity, placing emphasis on the creators’ interests and whether they are in line with the company’s mission. “Fathia recently graduated and would like to continue her Masters studies, while Bayu is someone who is really interested in animation study, an area in which New Zealand excels. Both YouTube creators are innovative, enthusiastic and energetic, making them logical fits for Education New Zealand.”
The meteoric growth, enthusiasm and communities of YouTube content creators do not go unnoticed by Google. Head of product communications of Google Indonesia, Putri Silalahi, said YouTube provides training for its users via YouTube Ambassadors events, and not only in big cities, but also in smaller cities around the country. To become a successful content creator on YouTube, according to Putri, one must possess the three Cs: creativity, consistency and community. “Create videos that involve people, like what Edho Zell does. He grew his community by asking what his viewers want to see next. YouTube is a two-way communication and including your community will make your viewers feel like they are a part of you,” she said, sharing a tip.
DailySocial’s head of content and research Amir Karimuddin applauds the success of these young Indonesian YouTubers. “The high number of YouTubers who succeeded in commercializing their canals says two things. First, it shows that Indonesia has a massive content creation market and second, Indonesians are very creative and are now on the same level as foreign content creators.”