D Billions Is Creating a YouTube Kids’ Entertainment Empire in Kyrgyzstan

D Billions Is Creating a YouTube Kids’ Entertainment Empire in Kyrgyzstan

(Bloomberg) -- The US has Mr. Beast. The Kyrgyz Republic has D Billions.

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If you have young children, there’s a good chance they have consumed some of the D Billions videos on YouTube. The videos feature four main characters — Cha-Cha, Boom-Boom, Lya-Lya and Chicky — who dress in primary colors and sing silly songs. One goal of the music is to teach kids words in different languages. Another is to keep them entertained and clicking on more and more videos.

The media company behind D Billions, AWA, was started a few years ago by the husband-and-wife team Ernist Umetaliev and Cholponai Kenzhekulova. From quite humble beginnings, they have created a full-fledged YouTube empire at their home base in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.

True to the name, the company has racked up billions upon billions of views for the videos and assembled a super team of Kyrgyz artists, singers, editors and producers. The videos have led to a D Billions world tour and toy and film opportunities. D Billions is a legit phenomenon.

On This Episode

For this episode of Hello World, I had no choice other than to don a silly costume and become a D Billions character. Hopefully, you will enjoy my humiliation while also learning about the story behind the company and how YouTube magic is made, Kyrgyzstan-style.

On a related and more serious note, I also spent time with the Kyrgyz singer Zere Asylbek. Through her work, Asylbek has brought some of Kyrgyzstan’s most pressing and controversial social issues to the fore. She has been an outspoken critic of gender inequality in Kyrgyz society and a powerful voice in trying to push the country forward.

Things You Will Learn

Kyrgyzstan is a fragile democracy surrounded by other countries in Central Asia with strong ties to Russia and their former Soviet roots. Elections are sometimes followed by coups, and a debate rages as to how close the country should align with Russia as Kyrgyzstan tries to carve out its future and boost an economy that suffers from few natural resources. Soviet statues and monuments remain throughout the capital of Bishkek, and attempts to remove Soviet street names have been met with repeated consternation from the Kremlin.

Creators like D Billions and musicians like Asylbek represent a new wave of economic and cultural inspiration in the country. The Kyrgyzstan government has put tax incentives in place to try and encourage a creator economy that plays to its rich artistic traditions and to make things like D Billions just the first part of a wave of new media. With change, however, comes discomfort and controversy. Kyrgyzstan is a male-dominated society, and many of its citizens have balked at the progressive activism from the younger, creator generation. Democratic notions like a free press and freedom of expression are being put to the test.

Things to Do After Watching the Episode

You will read things on the internet that make Kyrgyzstan seem like an unpleasant, possibly dangerous place to visit. This was not my experience.

The country is full of warm people who will go out of their way to make you feel welcome. I have never enjoyed more gracious hospitality.

This will be a gross generalization, but anecdotally, it felt very true: Just about everyone in Kyrgyzstan sings and dances beautifully. Music is everywhere, all of the time.

If you’re in Bishkek, the thing to do is go out and have a night of karaoke. Soulist is my top venue choice but only because I had the time of my life there.

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