The Tiny Indonesian Village That Makes YouTube Stars –


Hidayat transformed his garage into a workshop, where people from across the archipelago come to learn from the YouTube master. “My home has become like the headquarters of YouTubers,” Hidayat says. “Young and old people came to learn from each other and to collaborate. It’s open 24/7, basically like a place to hang out.” 

Dozens of silver and gold YouTube Play buttons hang on the wall, a testament to his achievement in amassing millions of subscribers. There are four computers with high-speed internet service that can be used by villagers to upload their videos, after Hidayat realized many of them found it difficult to upload from their smartphones with their limited data allowances.

Hidayat has become a role model that other villagers have followed—there are around 150 in his hamlet alone, he estimates. Take Angga Pradipta Heriyansyah, for instance, a 30-year-old man better known as Alex. Heriyansyah worked as a factory worker for eight years in Bondowoso and another year as a food peddler on the holiday island Bali before returning to his hometown in 2020.

Inspired by Hidayat and working with other young people in the village, Heriyansyah founded RB Official, which is now one of the most popular channels in East Java, if not Indonesia, with more than 800,000 subscribers. The channel specializes in short soap operas—rich and poor students at a fictional high school, a love story between a blind man and a civil servant—and ghost pranks, and quickly gained a diehard fan base, with each video gaining at least 30,000 views within its first week.

“We don’t use scripts,” says Heriyansyah, who acts as creative director. “We just improvise. One of the tricks is to quickly materialize what’s trending nowadays, especially within the socioeconomic realm. Because inspirational, daily stories are always close to the heart of the people.” Another trick: Always use a good thumbnail.

Heriyansyah is one of many success stories from Bondowoso and more generally Indonesia, which has 127 million active YouTube users—more than any country in the world, according to Global Media Insight. He used his earnings to build a house for his parents, and to buy a car and a motorbike.

As more people from Bondowoso became successful on YouTube, national media began to highlight the phenomenon. Recently, regional governments have started inviting Hidayat to give lectures on digital content to their residents. He’s happy to share his secrets to anyone who asks, and wants to “empower the youth in Bondowoso.” 

“For a long time, the young people have had to make money elsewhere, away from the family and not making enough. I want to give them a chance to earn a living to help their families in their hometown with just simple equipment.”

This article was first published in the September/October 2022 issue of WIRED UK magazine.