Justin Bieber? Drake? Taylor Swift? No, the most popular music channel on YouTube in 2016 – measured by video views – was owned by Indian entertainment company T-Series.

The Bollywood-focused channel’s videos were watched 7.32bn times last year, including 892.5m views in December 2016 alone. Second place was taken by Turkish channel netd müzik with 6.03bn views in 2016, with Bieber in third thanks to his 5.89bn views that year.

How do we know this? We’re keen readers of online-video industry site Tubefilter’s YouTube charts, which use data from analytics firm OpenSlate to rank the top 100 channels every month on Google’s video service. This week it published its chart for December, capping a full year’s worth of rankings for Music Ally to analyse for music trends.

Before we get in to those, here are the top 15 music channels, based on out totting up of Tubefilter’s 12 monthly charts:

  1. T-Series (7.23bn views)
  2. netd müzik (6.03bn)
  3. Justin Bieber (5.89bn)
  4. Little Baby Bum (4.98bn)
  5. Chu Chu TV (3.44bn)
  6. Calvin Harris (3.11bn)
  7. GMM Grammy (3.09bn)
  8. Spinnin’ Records (2.94bn)
  9. Ariana Grande (2.94bn)
  10. Rihanna (2.85bn)
  11. Fueled by Ramen (2.82bn)
  12. Taylor Swift (2.75bn)
  13. Trap Nation (2.61bn)
  14. Fifth Harmony (2.6bn*)
  15. Coldplay (2.54bn)

(The asterisk for Fifth Harmony is because there was no data in the Tubefilter charts for their channel in January, so they’re missing a month – although given February’s estimated views of 89m, that is unlikely to affect their position in this chart. Their channel ramped up later in the year.)

Let’s dig down into some of the key trends though.

T-Series on YouTube in 2016

The wider India story to T-Series’ success

T-Series had a storming 2016 on YouTube, with steady growth in its monthly views (June aside) before a sharp spike in the final quarter of the year. Bollywood music videos having a big audience isn’t a surprise, but there’s a wider story here about YouTube’s growth in India.

Fifth-ranked channel Chu Chu TV, which offers animated songs for children, also hails from India. Meanwhile, the latter half of 2016 also saw surges for Indian music channels Zee Music Company (1.45bn views between July and December) and Sony Music India (710m views between October and December).

From launching a data-friendly YouTube app for India to adding support for local languages, YouTube made a series of moves designed to fuel its growth there in late 2016. That’s paying off (in views at least) for local music channels, who also appeal to the wide Indian diaspora.

Meanwhile, with a record 892.5m views in December, T-Series seems poised to become the first YouTube channel to bag a billion views in a single month, sometime in 2017.

YouTube video

India is not the only emerging YouTube market

With all the arguments about the ‘value gap’ it’s been tempting to view YouTube music purely through a western lens. Our analysis of the Tubefilter charts shows that there are other markets to start thinking more about though.

The fact that Turkish channel netd müzik garnered more YouTube views than Justin Bieber is a reminder of these dynamics at work. See also Thai music channel GMM Grammy with its 3.09bn views.

Lower down the rankings there’s another Thai-pop channel, RSiam Music (1.7bn views between January and October before dropping out of the chart) as well as Vietnamese channel Pops Music (which entered Tubefilter’s chart in June and got 1.05bn views by the end of 2016).

Top Artists YouTube Views

Release cycles and baseline viewing

The ebb and flow of popular artists’ monthly YouTube views makes for interesting reading. Justin Bieber, for example, started the year at the peak of views for videos from his ‘Purpose’ album, notching up 721.6m views in January.

While that declined as he shifted into a touring cycle, the fall flattened out after May, suggesting a healthy baseline of views underpinning his success. That’s something that is true of most major artists now: 2016 certainly wasn’t an on-cycle year for Taylor Swift in terms of new releases, yet her lowest monthly total was 178.4m views.

Even though Calvin Harris and Ariana Grande saw spikes from their returns with new music and videos, they too have that baseline of views – one of the characteristics of the streaming world more generally, where songs have a much longer, flatter earnings cycle due to streams.

Curator brands

Curators make their presences felt

Spinnin’ Records, Fueled by Ramen and Trap Nation are different beasts: an independent dance label; a subsidiary of Warner Music Group; and a brand for trap music respectively. Their success on YouTube in 2016 is useful to consider as a trio though: trusted curators building their audiences.

Spinnin’ Records has been a YouTube staple for several years now, although its monthly views remained relatively flat in 2016, hovering between 230m and 260m over the course of the year. Rock label Fueled by Ramen and Trap Nation both grew impressively though: comparing their January and December monthly views reveals growth of 91% and 120% respectively.

Watch out in 2017, too, for WorldstarHipHop, which broke into Tubefilter’s top 100 in September, generating 782.8m views in the last four months of 2016 alone.

No Copyright Sounds, which provides music for YouTube gamers to use as their soundtracks, also popped in and out of the charts during 2016: in the five months for which it appeared in the top 100 (April, May, July, September and November) it generated 687.7m views, so will have been comfortably over a billion for the year.

YouTube video

The wheels on the bus are STILL going round on YouTube

We should be talking more, in the music industry, about channels like Little Baby Bum and Chu Chu TV. They are both regularly in the upper reaches of Tubefilter’s YouTube chart, with their animated nursery rhymes proving more popular than a swathe of big artists.

If Music Ally had access to a stable of artists in 2017 – and not necessarily famous pop stars either – we’d be booking a studio for a week, herding them in to record a year’s worth of nursery rhymes in their own styles, and then roping in some talented animators to create a pipeline of videos for a new kids’ music channel.

We wonder if people in the music industry who’ve previously worked on CD compilations aimed at  kids are thinking the same thing…

YouTube video

What, no Drake?

Drake was by a distance the most ubiquitous star of 2016 on audio-streaming services like Spotify, where he notched up more than 4.7bn streams last year. However, after March he was nowhere to be seen in Tubefilter’s monthly charts. What gives?

‘Hotline Bling’ alone generated 899m views in 2016 according to Vevo, and the lion’s share of those will have come from YouTube, where the video is up to 1.1bn views since its release in October 2015. We would have expected its big impact to have come in the final quarter of that year, then, but that’s hard to square with Vevo’s figure for 2016.

Also note this though: 2016 singles like ‘Controlla’ (311.5m Spotify streams), ‘Too Good’ (494.1m) and ‘One Dance’ (1.07bn) don’t have official YouTube videos on Drake’s channel, and while ‘Work’ has been a YouTube smash with 820m views, Rihanna is the lead artist so it’s on her channel.

The contrast between Drake’s audio and video-streaming strategies is a bigger story we’ll come to another day.

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