Have you ever binge-watched reaction videos on YouTube for hours, clicking on every video you come across? We delve into the reaction channel culture, the creators, and what about these channels clicks with its audience
The way we consume content today is determined by a lot of factors — streaming services, what our attention span is (you don’t need more than 15 seconds, courtesy Reels) et al. Not to mention, the pandemic has increased our screen time, with people spending more and more time on their smartphones and other devices. But reaction videos made it big way before we stared at our phones only because we’re locked down.
Reaction videos are videos wherein creators watch other videos, and give spontaneous/planned reactions. People are glued to these channels to know their favourite creators’ opinion. Discussing the rise in the number of reaction channels, Viraj Sheth, co-founder & CEO at Monk Entertainment, says, “Yes, there has been a meteoric rise. Creators like Tanmay Bhat, Triggered Insaan, and Myth Pad have made reaction videos that have reached crazy numbers like 10-15 million views. So, there is an audience for sure.”
The pandemic threw my sleep cycle into a tizzy. So, with lots of time on hand, cheap internet on my smartphone, I wandered on YouTube one night, and I stumbled upon a bunch of reaction videos. One thing led to another, and before I knew it, I spent two hours watching Tanmay Bhat’s reaction videos. Bhat is now making a lot of YouTube content, including reaction videos. In an interview with Economic Times, he reportedly said he doesn’t consider reaction videos a genre. This is after he has made nearly 50 reaction videos. His YouTube channel has over three million subscribers, and his content ranges from vlogs to stand-up videos to reviews and reactions. In the same interview, he reportedly also said, “If you look at it, news debates are also primarily a reaction to the news. Live stream gaming videos also involve gamer’s reaction to the game. So, it’s too broad to be called a genre. This format allows you to make 20 back-to-back jokes. It is basically making jokes with context, which is what makes it entertaining.”
The videos on which the creator is reacting is as important as the reaction of the creator. Content creator and YouTuber Adit Minocha, who uploads a video every fortnight, has more than two lakh subscribers on YouTube. To select videos to react to, he keeps going through the Internet to find cringe videos. “I just know that is the kind of content I can explore.” He prefers to call his videos commentary videos, rather than just reaction videos. He says, “Commentary is where you give your opinion or say your own jokes, whereas reaction is just about reacting, and not saying much.”
But what makes so many people subscribe to a channel to listen to someone’s opinions that aren’t even experts in that field? Nischay Malhan, popularly known as Triggered Insaan on YouTube, explains, “I have always maintained that a creator needs to make the audience like him/her, rather than the content that audience likes. For example, I was posting comedy roast and rant videos, and people were enjoying it. I thought till when will I keep doing this? I will get bored of it, but if I try to change, I might lose my audience. They don’t watch the videos for me. I have to make videos as Nischay, and not as Triggered Insaan. When they fall in love with Nischay, the person, they would like to watch Triggered Insaan videos, and my content on Instagram as well. That is what happened when I began posting different content. I have so many people on my gaming channel who tell me they don’t even play games, but they watch the videos for me.”
Minocha, a fan of PewDiePie, ventured into the space of reaction/commentary videos on YouTube in 2020. Before that, he was into vlogs, comedy sketches, and vines for nearly four years. He broke into the big leagues when he made a reaction/ commentary video on the conversation between Urvashi Rautela and YouTube sensation Logan Paul. The video amassed nearly half a million views. But YouTube took down that video based on copyright strike takedown (along with a channel strike) on a complaint filed by the actress without any prior warning.
Obviously, the takedown did affect him as it was the biggest video he had made up until then. He even made a YouTube video talking about the deleted video and said, “I don’t think commenting on something is wrong. I did not get any warning about the video. I did not use hate speech to abuse anyone, nor did I make any false claims. It’s my own creative work. The clips I use, to my knowledge, are under fair use. I am free to give commentary on them. It’s a standalone video with my own reviews, my opinion that I can give online freely. I feel it’s transformative work because it’s just me criticising and reacting to the video.” Minocha’s channel had merely 600-700 subscribers back then, and his subscriber base has now grown into lakhs.
Minocha had made many other videos about celebrities like Kiara Advani and Ananya Panday. They didn’t have to face any strike down, like Rautela’s incident. Facing general brickbats and trolling from fans is something he is fine with. He says, “When you talk about someone on the internet, there are going to be people who support them. Because you speak against them or make jokes about them, they will be against you. It is a sort of YouTube culture. I look at the comments to figure out how my videos are doing from my comments section. I try to make sure that I don’t say anything too offensive. I don’t know where the other person draws the line, so I try not to be harsh and offensive, or hurt someone. I make my videos with empathy. Still, I’m open to the fact that if I make a joke on someone, few people will not like it, but that is just the internet.”
Malhan, with a subscriber base of 10 million, tries to take permission from the people he is making his video on. He says,” The one thing I take pride in is that I haven’t made any video to offend anyone. Any joke I crack is in a very respectful manner. I make sure not to body shame or talk about their caste, culture, religion, or politics. It is only about what I see. I must have taken some missteps at the beginning of my career. Luckily, I have never had a controversy with anyone ever due to my content till now. There have also been a couple of times wherein people on whom I made a video reached out to me, saying thank you for making a video on me. But if someone was offended and reached out to me, I have removed their portion from the videos. It has happened only twice.”
Fame is often reduced to a number. When the video gets views, the influencer sees an increase in followers, but YouTubers follow a different metric. Malhan explains the number game. “When I reached one million, I thought the channel was really huge. Then, YouTube began gaining popularity, and today, most creators have 100K followers. I was listening to a podcast by H3H3. He said if he was Indian, he’d get tens of millions of views every day, given the size of our population. I was really stressed till I reached 3-4 million, but that began to show in my work, and I received comments about how my earlier work was better. I began making videos that I wanted to make, and the ones I would enjoy. I didn’t even realise when I crossed 10 million. To be honest, it doesn’t matter to me if I have one million or 10 million subscribers.”
Despite the rise in the number of channels and views, Sheth wouldn’t recommend anyone to have a full-blown reaction channel for a couple of reasons. He says, “One being monetisation. You will either get a copyright on your video, or, in most cases, you won’t get brands, like someone who’s creating comedy or creating infotainment content. The reason being your only USP is that you are reacting to someone else’s video. You’re not providing intrinsic value in terms of educating the user. You could work with a fintech brand or an edutech brand, and if you are in the comedy space, you could work with a lot of consumer brands.”