On December 10 last week, a Facebook page posted a ‘sorry’ message. Within minutes the post was flooded with a barrage of comments, some angry, others witty and most with a tone of helplessness. One of the comments read, “I'm not gonna forgive you. My endsem is going on.. still i was waiting for you guys to upload video, refreshing your fb page and youtube channel every 5mins. I didn't study a bit because of you.” (sic) The best, though, summed up the reaction to the post, commenting, accurately. “We really luv u...that's why we will abuse u...” (sic)
Among several other exhibits, probably the aforementioned post and the comments define the sensation that The Viral Fever (TVF) is in its entirety. The uproar by its viewers was over the postponement of the launch of the fifth and final episode of its original drama series called Permanent Roommates. The episode did finally come out on December 12 and had over 350,000 views in less than 48 hours. This, for a 38-minute YouTube video, in the era of the ‘Thumb Generation’ where holding the attention of a viewer for 120 seconds (let alone 30+ minutes) is an arduous task. For the uninitiated, Permanent Roommates is a web-series by TVF presented in association with CommonFloor. The series traces the journey of a couple, and is a contemporary take on relationships.
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We spoke to Biswapati Sarkar, the writer of the show. Biswapati is more famous on the internet as ‘Arnub’, and well-known for his ‘Arnab-Goswami-meets-Between-Two-Ferns’ takedown of celebrities. Here’s the conversation:
YourStory: What was the vision that TVF started ‘Permanent Roommates’ with?
Biswapati Sarkar: After Arunabh, tried real hard to make his kind of shows on Indian TV, he was really frustrated and felt helpless. It only made him more aggressive to create the kind of series that he could be proud of, and that's how he Started TVF-ONE (Online Network for Entertainment) under TVF Media Labs, with an aim to create progressive content for Indian youth. So his vision has always been to redefine content in India.
After starting TVF-Qtiyapa for comedy , TVF-RecycleBin for non-fiction, he decided to start another genre of programming TVF-DRAMA and the intention was to tell identifiable stories with softer emotions. He wanted this to be the first TVF show, which will bust the myth that Indian viewers are not ready for evolved storytelling and only want melodrama and regressive themes.
With Permanent Roommates the idea was just to have a realistic take on contemporary relationships. We had a small thought about a guy who proposes to his girlfriend after three years of long-distance relationship, the day he comes back to India from abroad. We built the entire series from there. We did not want to follow a traditional sitcom format where the same bunch of characters appear in different episodes and decided to focus more on the journey of the couple. This is why new characters and situations appear in different episodes helping our protagonists discover newer aspects of their relationship.
YS: What goes on behind making something of this scale?
BiS: It wouldn't be unfair to say that trying to create a 2-hour-long series from scratch to final upload requires a lot of hard work and dedication, especially when you have a small team of 25-30 people who cover both the creative and the network aspect of the show. Of course, budget wise, we have gone overboard to ensure that we are able to do justice to the story and create the right environment. It’s a real matter of pride that all of us could actually execute this series in such a small period of time. It will remain as one of our greatest creative experiences ever.
YS: Where do you get theses breed of actors from?
BiS: Good actors are rare to find. We must say that Nidhi Bisht, who does most of our casting has a great eye for talent. Nidhi Singh had worked with us previously several times and we had no doubts about the fact that she could pull this off. Sumeet Vyas is a very famous actor in both the theatre and film circle. It was an honour to have him on board for the project.
YS: How do you seamlessly blend the brand (CommonFloor) with the message (show)?
BiS: The show was conceived for commonfloor.com and we wouldn't have created this season otherwise. This is the reason why the couple move from one house to the other looking for houses. These flats/houses helped us in creating new situations and ultimately serve as pit stops in their journey. The brand message is inherently woven into the journey of the couple whose ultimate aim is to find a safe haven for themselves. Writing for stories with brand integration is tough and one word here and there can turn off the viewers.
TVF Media Labs, our parent company was started by Arunabh for creating branded content and he has a long body of work in creating content which has inherent brand essence. His over half a decade experience in trying to tell branded stories has become a valuable resource for us to master the craft of writing for branded entertainment.
TVF-ONE has created stories for over 20 Brands, of the likes of Flipkart, Airtel, Head & Shoulders, Shiksha.Com etc. and we have learnt to do this seamlessly after a lot of hard work.
YS: What's the plan for the second season?
BiS: Under wraps.
YS: What are the other series you're working on?
BiS: We are in the process of finishing the final drafts of our second web-series and have already started conceptualizing on the third one. Although, we are pretty sure that the Indian YouTube scenario is going to burst with web-series in the next 6 months and every other channel would try and create a web-series. We are proud that TVF has successfully been the pioneer of first sketch comedy, then vox pop and now Original Drama series in the online space.
YS: What did you set as a benchmark for your show?
BiS: There were no set benchmarks. We just went out to do something very honest, real and that we believed in. We had high expectations from it and we are glad that we surpassed them. Like we always say at TVF, its "Lights..Camera..Experiment" for us. And this experiment has been more than successful.
TVF which was started by Arunabh Kumar in 2009-10 has come a long way since. The channel has over 1 million subscribers and has garnered more than 63 million views on its 100+ videos. YourStory spoke to Arunabh about the journey so far. Here is the conversation:
YourStory: Where do you see TVF in the timeline today, between its inception and the mission?
Arunabh Kumar: I started The Viral Fever Media Labs in 2009-2010, when I got a few projects to do Branded Content. I was writing and directing, but the budgets were so low nobody wanted to produce. TVF Media Labs started as a production house. I worked with brands and agencies to create content. After I started getting bigger projects, I felt like making some cool TV shows. I realized that youngsters were not watching any of the Indian TV shows. But after noticing the extreme reluctance among the TV Channels to change, I decided to start an ‘Online TV’ under TVF Media Labs.
That is how ‘TVF-ONE’ or TheViralFever.Com was born. TVF's online network has gone on to become India's biggest online youth entertainment network for premium content and now we have three verticals of programming - Comedy, Non-Fiction and Drama.
For me, it was never a question of waging a war on Television. I love TV. For me an episode of Seinfeld is more satisfying for than 100 movies. I just love TV shows and all I want to do is create classic shows like Mulla Naseruddin, Kakka Ji Kahin, Seinfeld, Big Bang Theory or Game Of Thrones. I want to build India's HBO.
I want TVF-ONE to become one of the biggest content destination for youth from all over the world. The TVF brand should become the 'Apple' of Content.
YS: What are the other associations/collaborations you're looking at?AK: While, the mother ship TVF Media Labs has been engaged in branded content, we have been doing TV Shows (we created one for Bindass), Live shows and films as well.
We are doing one more cool show with Airtel called ‘Tech Conversations with My Dad’ which was even admired by Amitabh Bachchan. We will be creating bigger series and properties with some of the biggest brands in the country. And all of these brands end up getting a much more involved association with the audience with our content as compared to TV advertisements. It’s better to have half a million fans who are engaged with a brand's property than generate 5 million Impressions and not create any engagement. Today with the success of Permanent Roommates we can even build a loyal community for "CommonFloor" which is not possible on any other medium.
YS: Tell us about your association with CommonFloor (CF)?
AK: I think our association with CF has been one of the most rewarding one in terms of the experience. Sumit and his marketing team from CF are one of the most progressive startup brands I have worked with. They gave us all the freedom and we could deliver our best with them, which is not easy. In fact if you look at all the startups, none of them have been able to create such a long form content property in India. CF is the first to do that. The most important thing is that they are quick decision makers, which is very important for any brand if they want do content marketing in digital space. TVF-ONE is lucky to have found such an awesome team.
YS: Where do you see online content headed in the next two years? What’s next for TVF?
AK: The online ecosystem of content consumption is only going to explode. I remember when I started this I did not think we would be able to reach one million subscribers in just over two years. Online viewers don't have good quality content to watch. You have over 100 million smartphone users, over 60% of which is the below-35-year-old population. An entire generation has ‘nothing’ to watch, and they want watch a lot. The only problem is it’s not easy to make, what they want to watch. TVF Media Labs, the parent company wants to lead the content revolution in all formats, be it TV, films, events, branded content.
Read Arunabh's full story: Arunabh Kumar – The man behind Qtiyapa
For CommonFloor, that launched its first TVC in August earlier this year, this collaboration was a unique branding exercise. Sumit Jain, CEO and co-founder points out that the team believes in innovative and disruptive marketing.
“The TVC gave our brand the necessary impetus through traditional media. In our 360 degree endeavour to connect with our target audience and sustain brand-building, this series is evolutionary and we thus launched the first ever branded content web series with TVF,” says Sumit. The key brand message of CommonFloor is to remove the users fear and anxiety and to help them in their search for a dream home.
“Permanent Roommates delivered this in a seamless and contextually relevant manner. This association also helps to build a brand image of being a youthful, quirky and bold brand that does not shy away from taking the road less travelled,” adds Sumit.
The bet has worked for Sumit and CommonFloor. The series has generated tremendous buzz and visibility and most importantly, it has gone viral triggering positive conversations for the brand across the country. The TVF team claims that the show is the third most-watched long form web series on YouTube and with time will grab the No. 1 spot as more and more people watch it over the next few days.
"The Viral Fever is a stand out case study for original content in India. They have managed to build a fan base for their brand of content which is unprecedented for creators in India. The success of Permanent Roommates, in which they moved away from their usual satirical comedy to a relatable story that's capturing human emotions is a sign of how their fans are evolving with them. TVF is known for experimenting with unique formats on YouTube including introducing the idea of series such as 'The Making Of', 'Chai Sutta Chronicles' and now 'Permanent Roommates'. Creators like The Viral Fever are helping make YouTube a daily habit for millions of users in India and outside today. Globally, creators like Freddie Wong, The Fine Brothers and Ray William Johnson have seen great success with web series like VGHS, React Series etc,” says Aditi Rajvanshi, Youtube partner Manager at Google India.
Watch the full series here:
In India, long format web-series has not been explored by YouTube channels properly. TVF is proving that they are the leaders in the Indian digital market as this is the first time that a web-series has been explored this well from a YouTube Network in India. TVF has also claimed that not only in India, but world over ‘Permanent Roommates’ is the most viewed Advertisers Funded Programme (AFP) on YouTube.
YouTube as a medium for consumption is still in its babyhood. While other channels still grapple with the questions like how long should a video be, how do you retain your audiences and how do you create content that can entice the viewer to keep coming back for more, TVF has been able to build its own cult following and viewership. TVF has been called a ‘small’ YouTube channel, and a boutique studio, but over time it has become clear that TVF is India’s Online Network for Entertainment.