The Laugh Rioters
By: Sapna Nair-Purohit Photo Credit: manoj patil Dated: June 01, 2014
Over the last few months, the internet-savvy audience in India has been LOLing over a bunch of videos created by The Viral Fever who believe that a young and progressive audience in India has had nothing worthwhile to watch on television during the last decade... Thus they came out with a much watched spoof on one of India’s top anchors Arnab Goswami. TVF aspires to become the country’s biggest youth entertainment network across platforms
The Viral Fever’s ‘revulsion’ for television shows is evident in the way its logo appears at the beginning of the videos — a defunct TV set being trampled. “I want to be Indian’s answer to Disney, says Arunabh Kumar, the founder, who is an IIT Kharagpur alumnus and a former research consultant with the US Air Force.
Kumar (seen here first right standing), along with a few other IITians, has been entertaining millions with their humourous, smartly-crafted satirical takes on politics, cinema, television, and life in general.
With an initial investment of Rs. 25 lakh, Kumar set up TVF in 2010 making funny corporate films and music videos with help from his fellow IITians. Today, one of its videos, ‘Bollywood Aam Aadmi Party: Arnab’s Qtiyapa’, which is 16 minutes long, has clocked close to three million views on its YouTube channel. TVF will soon launch YouTube channels in the thriller and musical genres and also make a foray into television with a show on Bindass.
BATTLING ‘CREATIVE FEUDALISM’
It was what Kumar called the “creative inertia” of people in the television industry that pushed him into starting TVF. The first few ideas that he pitched independently to channels, such as MTV, met with discouraging responses. ‘The Indian audience doesn’t want to watch such content’ and ‘this is too evolved and intelligent’, they apparently told Kumar.
Nobody is going to subscribe to a brand channel because of one funny TVC they make. Brands have to go to destinations where people come for good content.
So, when Rowdies, a parody on Roadies aired on MTV, put out on the TVF Qtiyapa channel in February 2012, recorded a million views in five days, it was an emphatic validation of the assumption that the audience was open to watching such content and that the audience was “not dumb” as was being suggested.
TVF plans to produce content that appeals to the progressive urban youth in the 18-34 year age group from India’s six metros and a host of Tier II cities. “We’ll let the TV channels cater to the boy from a village in Mathura,” Kumar says, referring to television broadcasters’ fixation with appealing to the lowest common denominator of their target group.
TVF’s young in-house team (consisting mostly of IITians) is well-equipped to act, direct, write scripts, edit, and even work on VFX. The viewer comments are testimony to their fine acting and production talents. The Gangs of Social Media video cost only a few thousand rupees, while the ones such as the parody on the Shahrukh Khan starrer Ra.One, called Jha.2, called for more resources.
Currently, the TVF network comprises the TVF Qtiyapa channel (the main channel); TVF Recycle Bin that features non-fiction and vox populi content; TVF Media Labs that handles production; TVF Live that does live college shows; TVF Humorously Yours that features live acts and stand-up acts; and finally TVF TV that focuses on content for TV channels.
TVF also hopes to venture into the technology domain by creating games and applications for brands.
LAUGHING WITH BRANDS
Nearly a fifth of TVF’s content is created for brands. In fact, TVF plans to deepen brand content in the months to come. Its video ‘Emotional Atyacharge’ created for Freecharge garnered 1.5 million views and was one of the most successful videos to come out from its stable.
Although most brands cannot resist the temptation of owning their own YouTube channel, it is impossible for them to sustain it due in part to lack of good content.
Brands have been demanding similar ‘viral’ content from TVF, albeit at a low cost. “They are willing to spend Rs. 2 crore for a 30-second spot on TV, but want one million views for Rs. 2 lakh online, because it’s a smaller screen,” he laments.
Kumar says he is in talks with several TV channels for content partnerships. But he is clear that TVF will work with only those who let it play by its rules.
THE ONLINE GAME
It’s a good time for TVF and its contemporaries such as AIB (All India Bakchod) to make merry. According to the 2013 comScore report, online video consumption in India doubled in the past two years (at the time of recording data) to 3.7 billion videos per month. So more and more people are spending more time watching online videos. A Google study reveals that nearly two-thirds of YouTube viewers in India are less than 35 years of age while a third access videos on their mobiles.
Besides, as Kumar points out, the audience’s desire to watch more and more online content can only fuel this growth. “We are very clear that our audience is online, a medium that is platform agnostic. They can watch our content on mobiles, computers, tablets or even on smart TVs,” he points out.
“Online is the most brutal medium. You get to know right then whether someone has liked it or not. If you succeed here, you can succeed anywhere,”
Kumar says, proudly adding that TVF has more subscribers than its rival and competitor MTV India.