Uses Gratification Theory and Village Cooking YouTube Channel - A Discourse

Updated: Nov 1, 2021 (Article published link in International Journal of Multidisciplinary Research and Analysis) (Article download link)

A. Abstract

Viewers of youtube channel, choose the content freely to satisfy their needs. They like a video or dislike a video based on their likes and dislikes, thus empowering audience over media to give their feedback. More than this audience can give their comments over the content of the video. This paves for active participation of audience as Uses Gratification Theory (UGT) postulates. The audience also has the power to share the video to other platforms to show how their physical, psychological and social needs were satisfied and so others could get satisfied. Village Cooking YouTube channel has been taken for experiment to evaluate the concepts of UGT.

B. Key words

Uses gratification theory - YouTube - Village Cooking Channel - Needs satisfaction

C. Introduction

Uses Gratification theory states that people actively seek out specific media to satisfy specific needs. The theory explains that audience is free to choose the options from the content available in front of them and that each one has different motive of satisfying their needs by choosing such specific media. The spectrum of needs ranges from physical, psychological and social, consolidating cognitive, affective and behavioural needs. Village Cooking Channel is (VCC) a cooking channel from India and stands as the first youtube channel to get diamond button from YouTube, crossing one crore subscribers. This paper tries to look into various concepts of UGT and trying to have a discourse of UGT, in relationship with VCC.

D. Uses Gratification Theory

Wikipedia explains Uses Gratification Theory (UGT) as an approach to understanding why and how people actively seek out specific media to satisfy specific needs. Diverging from other media effect theories that question ‘what does media to the people?’, UGT focuses on ‘what do people do with media?’ The driving question of UGT is: Why do people use media and what do they use them for? UGT discusses how users deliberately choose media that will satisfy given needs and allow one to enhance knowledge, relaxation, social interactions, companionship, diversion or escape. [1]

Role of Audience

Uses Gratification Theory gives its thrust on the role of audience. It propels the following ideas:

1. Audience’s Freedom: Various media gives various content but the audience are the ones who choose the specific content and thus specific media.

2. Audience’s Motive: The audience choose specific content and so specific media in order to satisfy their specific needs.

3. Variety of Needs: Their needs may vary from cognitive needs (increasing their knowledge), affective needs (entertainment), behavioural needs (changing their actions), social needs (increasing interactions and relationships), psychological needs (mental satisfaction or diversion)

4. Paradigm shift: The perspective is not from the media to people but from the people to media. It is not what media does to the people but what people do with media that matters.

So, it is clear that the audience as consumers have clear motive in selecting a particular media and particular content. Gusfield (1994) opines that unlike other theories concerning media consumption, UGT gives the consumer power to discern what media they consume, with the assumption that the consumer has a clear intent and use. This contradicts previous theories such as mass society theory, that states that people are helpless victims of mass media produced by large companies; and individual differences perspective, which states that intelligence and self-esteem largely drive an individual's media choice. [2]

Goals for media use

People are no longer passive audience, getting affected by mass media who control the thought of mass and so become victims of mass media. Now they have choices and have power in exercising their freedom to choose the type and content of media. People choose particular media to satisfy their particular needs and not by individual differences perspective, intelligence and self-esteem. These needs can vary from social needs and psychological needs. They are the base for media production, the content and methodology. The media serves the people. In one way, it can be understood that the people are the masters and the media are the servants.

Katz, Blumler, and Gurevitch synthesised that UGT's approach was focused on "the social and psychological origins of needs, which generate expectations of the mass media or other sources, which lead to differential patterns of media exposure (or engagement in other activities), resulting in need gratifications and some other consequences, perhaps mostly unintended ones. [3] This explains clearly that there are definite goals for audience to use specific needs. Denis (2010) in his book Mass communication theory: an introduction, lists the following goals for media use.

According to the research, goals for media use can be grouped into five uses. The audience wants to:

  1. be informed or educated

  2. identify with characters of the situation in the media environment

  3. simple entertainment

  4. enhance social interaction

  5. escape from the stresses of daily life [4]

How could the above needs explained by Denis (2010) and the needs explained by the founding authors of UGT be classified?. West and Turner (2010) is of the opinion that Abraham Maslow (1954) comes in handy to stratify the needs.

Hierarchy of Needs

According to West and Turner (2010), UGT was an extension of Needs and Motivation Theory, as outlined by Abraham Maslow in 1954, which argues that people actively looked to satisfy their needs based on a hierarchy. These needs are organised as Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs in the form of a pyramid with the largest, most fundamental needs at the base and the need for self-actualisation at the top. From the bottom-up the pyramid contains Biological/Physical, Security/Safety, Social/Belonging, Ego/Self-Respect and Self-actualisation at the top. [5]

For physiological and safety needs of things like food, water, warmth, security, safety and rest one needs to be informed or educated to know how to cultivate food or build a house of warmth. These are the cognitive needs to enhance knowledge and behavioural needs to change their behaviour. UGT states that people who would like to satisfy their physiological needs, they search for media that would cater to their needs. It means that people have the choice to choose the appropriate media and gratify their needs.

For psychological needs of belongingness and love needs, such as relationships, friendship and of esteem needs such as prestige and feeling of accomplishment, people need to feel with emotions. This is the affective need to enhance their emotional intelligence and social need to enhance their interactions. It gives them social relationships, companionship and relaxation. It entertains them and help escape from the stresses of daily life.

For self-fulfilment needs of achieving one’s full potential including creative activities, people should get enlightened. The media has contents to satisfy people’s creativity and achieve their self fulfilment.

When traditional media such as newspapers, radio and television try to satisfy peoples needs, internet has grown as the preferred media to gratify peoples needs recently.

Internet and UGT

Thomas et al. (2004) notes that the Internet provides a new and deep field for exploring UGT. It was found to have three main categories of gratifications: content gratification, process gratification, and social gratification.

Content: Uses for the Internet include the need for researching or finding specific information or material, which are gratified with content.

Process: Users gain gratification from the experience of purposeful navigating or random browsing of the Internet in its functional process.

Social: Uses encompass a wide range of forming and deepening social ties. [6]

Unlimited content is available in internet and is growing every minute. The search engines help people to research and find specific information or entertainment. People only have to navigate through various options, via either through random browsing or purposeful search and get their satisfaction of finding the content and consuming it. It is like a cow looking for the green pasture, available abundantly in front of it and need to look for the right grass to get the satisfaction of eating it. The content is the grass. The people are the cows. But is it all? No. There is more to it. The cows can get introduced to friendly cows and get the satisfaction of relating with them. That is the social ties that internet could bring in the lives of the people. That is the power of

Louis (2013) rightly states that recent research has looked at social networking services, personal and subject-based blogs, and internet forums put together to study the U&G in posting social content, the relationship between gratifications and narcissism, and the effects of age on this relationship and these gratifications. Users have motivations of the following overall:

  1. Social and affection

  2. Need to vent negative feelings

  3. Recognition

  4. Entertainment

  5. Cognitive needs [7]

It can be understood that uses and gratification theory, in total, explains that people at various stages have various needs, such as physiological needs, psychological needs and social needs and that media, especially internet, has the content for people to freely browse through to satisfy their needs. Since YouTube is a growing social media in internet, youtube is taken for understanding uses gratification theory and how it helps people get the satisfaction. A particular channel called ‘Village Cooking Channel’ (VCC) is taken for experiment as it stands 93rd rank in all over India and has 1crore and 29 lakhs subscribers as of today.

E. Village Cooking Channel

Village Cooking Channel (VCC) is one of the thousands of YouTube channels in YouTube. Firstly a brief about YouTube will help in understanding how these channels work and Secondly a brief about VCC will help in understanding the history and growth of VCC.

YouTube - A Brief

YouTube can be defined as video sharing website that allows users to watch, upload and comment on videos. Established in 2005, YouTube was co-founded by Chad Hurley, Steve Chen and Jawed Karim. It is owned by Google Inc., which displays its ads in the website's pages. YouTube is available in 14 different languages. [13]

YouTube is a revolutionary invention to share and view original videos for information, entertainment and education. In fact the first video was posted in YouTube on 23rd April 2005. [14] It has grown into a big store of videos, globally accessible by people of all walks of life from every country. As of September 2021, there are more than 500 hours of content uploaded to YouTube each minute, and one billion hours of content are watched on YouTube every day. [15]

Five hundred minutes of video uploaded to YouTube every minute equates to approximately 30,000 hours of video uploaded every hour. In 2019, YouTube reported two billion people logged in to the platform daily and one billion hours of video watched per day. 82% of people use YouTube as a source of entertainment. 37% of viewers ages 30 to 49 use Youtube as a news source. As of 2020, YouTube was the fifth most used social media platform for marketers after Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Twitter. The majority (59%) of YouTube customers consist of males, while 41% female. 25 to 34-year-olds make up 32% of Youtube customers, making them the most dominant age group. In 2021, there are approximately 1.86 billion YouTube users worldwide, up from 1.47 billion in 2017. It’s estimated that by 2022, there will be 210 million viewers in the U.S., up from 192 million in 2018. [16]

Village Cooking Channel (VCC)

Nahla (2020) in his article in The Hindu writes that ‘Ellarum vaanga, always welcomes you!’ Fans of Village Cooking Channel (VCC), the Tamil YouTube channel that has more than 3 million subscribers, know that these words, yelled out enthusiastically by its team of five chefs and cameraman, are the start to something worth feasting on, if not physically, at least with one’s eyes. But now, according to Social blade, in 2021 its subscribers grew into one crore and counting and thus got their diamond button from YouTube.

History of VCC & Passion for Cooking

VCC was founded by Subramanian, Murugesan, Ayyanar, Tamilselvan, Muthumanickam and Periyathambi from Chinna Veeramangalam village, Pudukkottai district of Tamil nadu state. VCC posts three to four videos per week of cooking videos. The team earns around Rs.7 lakh per month from the advertising revenue generated by YouTube viewings.

Food plays a big role in village life, and men take over kitchen duties when the womenfolk are out in the fields, says Subramanian. “After television, cooking was the biggest form of entertainment for us when growing up. In Chinna Veeramangalam, I would say every man has learned as many recipes from his mother as any woman, from an early age.” This came in handy in 2018, when Subramanian, who has an M Phil in Commerce and previous web design experience, decided to produce online cookery videos. “My cousins were between jobs, and hoping to go abroad. That is when I decided to showcase the food we eat, cooked in our unique style, with thatha (grandfather) leading us. VCC’s viewership started growing when we stopped imitating other programmes,” he says. Its near-theatrical production style has won it many accolades, the most recent being the Black Sheep Award for Best Food Programme in February. “But before its launch, all of us were readying to leave for abroad. I was running a website that showcased designs of freelancers for sale. In 2016, I sold it off. For two years, I was jobless and did not know what to do. My brother had done his B.Com and was preparing to fly abroad. Another one had a degree in Hotel Management. We were all set to fly. It was by sheer chance that we decided to try our luck with a YouTube channel," says Subramaniam.

Subramanian’s three cameras focus not just on the cooking, but also the verdant surroundings where firewood stoves are set up from scratch. The team usually shoots in the open, near the fields in 10 neighbouring villages, transporting its equipment (including traditional stone grinders) in a van. Since Periyathambi is not used to cooking for less than 100 people, the team arranges free banquets for charity homes to share the food they prepare.

“We started with recipes that are common in our village, such as winged termites fried with puffed rice, and crabs, snails and fish caught in field bunds,” says Subramanian. “These dishes have a nostalgic value for our Tamil viewers, especially for those who have migrated from villages to urban areas.” But it’s not all rustic cuisine; Muthumanickam has studied catering in college, and is the brains behind some of the more exotic dishes like Arabian mutton biryani cooked with two full goats, which garnered over 21 million views after it was uploaded last March. There are some surreal scenes too, such as a giant cloth ball of chenna (cheese curds made by splitting milk with lemon juice) hanging out to drain like an outlandish fruit on a tree while the team gets ready to make rosogollas in the fields.

Fan Following

Some of the chefs have their own fan following — Ayyanar’s skill with the stone grinder (ammi) gets many comments, while Muthumanickam’s expert onion chopping is also popular. The team avoids using modern conveniences like pressure cookers and electric mixers.

First difficult days and the turning point

The first eight months were a struggle, he adds. “We uploaded very regular, very professional cooking videos. These videos did not cross a few hundred views.” The first breakthrough came in 2018, after Cyclone Gaja struck the coast. “For 12 years, we were hit by drought. In 2018, for the first time in many years, we saw many winged termites in our village. Our childhood was all about catching them and eating them, about traditional fish catching etc. So, when we saw the winged termites, we decided to do a video on that. It was our way of reliving the memories and telling the world the kind of life we had as kids.” It became the first video to garner a large number of views. Since then, there has been no turning back. “We really didn't have great expectations from our YouTube channel. Of course, we wanted to earn from it, but didn't fancy ourselves as the best. We still can’t believe that our channel has become such a huge hit. To be fair, we expected about a lakh views. That was our biggest dream. Today, our videos have crossed several million views,” Subramanian says.

Diamond Button

In three years, the Village Cooking Channel – launched by Subramanian, his cousins V Murugesan, V Ayyanar, G Tamilselvan and T Muthumanickam and their grandfather M Periyathambi – has achieved the phenomenal feat of being the first Tamil channel on YouTube to secure a diamond button.


Once the channel started picking momentum, the team decided to make themselves more useful. “When we started earning from YouTube, we decided to spend some of it on the people who gave us so much love.” So, the cooking became bigger. The food was served to elders at a local old-age home. “When we crossed one million subscribers, we did the same. We made biriyani and gave it to the elders at the old age home, along with some essentials for them.” Soon, they started to serve the villagers too on the days they were shooting videos for YouTube.