It’s not just the streaming video services that are struggling to make a profit in India. Even the country’s most popular YouTube stars have trouble making a living from digital video.
The Viral Fever, a troupe of actors that creates TV-style episodic comedies, has one of the countryâs most popular channels on YouTube, with about 1.3 million subscribers. Its most recent series, âPitchers,â focused on a group of young tech workers trying to decide whether to form their own start-up.
But the ad revenue from YouTube is so low that the group, known as T.V.F., has turned to sponsors like Kingfisher beer and Pondâs cold cream for funding to create its shows. T.V.F. also makes corporate videos and does live comedy shows at Indian colleges to help pay the bills.
Amit Golani, who directed âPitchers,â said the financial challenges were worth it to make edgy shows that appealed to younger viewers.
He worked in Indian TV for a while, but hated its formulaic soap-opera story lines and factory-style production process. âIt kills the spine inside you,â he said in an interview in August, when the crew was taking a break from filming.
And mingling with students during the stand-up comedy shows has its own rewards. âThey treat us like buddies,â he said. âThey think we are like them.â
All India Bakchod, a four-man comedy troupe, has had similar challenges. The group has produced videos making fun of topics like Bollywood, Indian weddings and politics and has nearly 1.5 million followers on its YouTube channel.
About two months ago, A.I.B. finally hit the big time, when Star India, a group of television channels owned by 21st Century Fox, began airing a weekly news satire show starring the group on its Hotstar app and on TV.
But that payoff was a long time coming. A.I.B.’s early videos were terrible, said Rohan Joshi, a member of the group. “We look back on them now with a certain amount of nostalgia and shame,” he said in an interview over the summer.
A.I.B.’s first breakout hit was the 2013 video “Rape: It’s Your Fault,” that looked at the reaction of Indian society to a series of rapes. The group also tackled the topic of net neutrality — never an easy concept to explain — with two popular videos that led one million Indians to petition regulators to support the concept. (Last week, A.I.B. weighed in with a videoÂ criticizing Facebook’s controversial Free Basics program.)
Mr. Joshi said that A.I.B. essentially breaks even on video production costs and makes extra income from branded content it creates for Red Bull, Xbox and Quiksilver.
He said that the group’s edgy, often profanity-laced work, addressed important public topics, but was unlikely to have been allowed on Indian TV. YouTube offered the group the freedom to say what it wanted.
“That is the reason we went online,” Mr. Joshi said. Some of the group’s members had worked in television before “just for the paycheck,” he said, and they did not want to make the same compromises.
Their new comedy with Star, “On Air with A.I.B.,” gives them the best of both worlds. The half-hour show, which resembles “The Daily Show” and John Oliver’s “Last Week Tonight” in the United States, is produced in English and Hindi versions, and the language is raw and often unprintable in both languages. The early episodes have taken on the excesses of electioneering politicians, the backlash against Syrian refugees following the Paris terror attacks and Indian national pride.
“Star’s given us the same creative freedom that we would have had on YouTube,” Mr. Joshi said in an email. “We still approach this from the point of view of making the best possible show for the Internet, with censored TV cut-down versions being created from the larger web episode.”
Sanjay Gupta, chief operating officer of Star India, said that the company was pleased with the A.I.B. show. News satire is a new genre for the company and is helping it reach a younger audience. “We do a lot of experiments around content,” he said.