TVF1: An idiot box for the young
Creating content for an online television channel for India’s progressive, aspirational youth
Arunabh Kumar, 31, completed his master’s in electrical engineering from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Kharagpur, in 2006. He had been involved with the dramatics society there and was directing short videos. One of them, Where Is My Mind?, was transferred to other devices so many times from his computer that his system crashed.
Kumar knew he wanted to work in the movies, but realized his decision would upset his Bihar-based family. “I opted for a ‘soft landing’ in Mumbai and worked as a research assistant with a professor at IIT, Bombay, who was involved in a project with the US air force.” He was supposed to go to Tokyo for the project’s second phase but turned back from the airport “because I could not see myself doing this for a long time”.
He approached Red Chillies Entertainment, asking if he could be hired “as an engineering student (so) I could get insights into the technology of cinema. Who would have hired me if I had said I wanted to understand film-making like everyone else?” says Kumar, who started as a runner, or odd-jobs person, on the sets of Om Shanti Om in December 2006.
After the post-production work finished in 2007, Kumar says he was like a “media vagabond”. He worked in advertising agencies, made documentaries, wrote scripts for audio-visuals and shorts, directed music videos, basically took up “anything that came my way to polish myself”.
With the aim of making “entertaining content (events, video shows, shorts) for progressive Indian youth (ages 18-34) in six metros and 22 tier 2 cities like Nashik, Surat, Jaipur”, he set up an online platform within the production house called Theviralfever.com, or TVF1 as it is referred to now, in 2012. It was conceived as India’s first online television channel for youth entertainment.
Kumar says he believed he couldn’t be that off the mark with his concepts. Besides, he says, he was irritated that people just did not want to try something new, or take calculated risks.
The content on TVF1 may not appeal to those from south Mumbai or Pali Hill but, he says “it is for that person who reads Five Point Someone, loves reading about the IITs, IIM culture, aspires to get a better job, has studied in an English medium school”.
“I had to find the cheapest way to upload it and that’s why I chose YouTube. We got 20,000 views in the first week.” Later that year, he tasted success with a series of shorts called MI Squad (for Viral Fever Media Labs), sponsored by Colgate-Plax and created especially for IIT, Mumbai’s Mood Indigo festival.
“I was getting bigger clients for the branded entertainment and I started using the cash earned here to fund the work for TVF1.” On 21 February 2012, Kumar uploaded a spoof on the MTV Roadies show called Rowdies; it got a million hits in five days. “We launched TVF1 with this spoof. When it got so many hits, I knew then that my focus was right. I was validated.”
Changing the mindset of people who control funding remains a challenge. “The agency guys, the producers, the brand marketing guys, the GEC wallas are willing to pay Rs.3-4 crore for 30-second TVCs (television commercials), but for a 3-minute video for a digital platform, they say do it in Rs.13 lakh. If you want to reach out to the audience I have described, that TVC will never make a mark,” he says.
“For good content, people tend to be screen-agnostic. They will watch it on a laptop or a smartphone but it will take time for branding and marketing guys to understand this and spend the money where the audience is.”
Not following any trends and sticking to what he believes will work in the entertainment space for youth. Also, being able to “crack” a new model where TVF1 conceptualizes, executes and disseminates branded entertainment in the digital medium. “Even TV does not do that. They need producers, cable operators, etc. TVF1 has close to 800,000 subscribers (people who have signed up for the TVF1 YouTube network for notifications for new content). Which other platform can give a brand this kind of audience?” asks Kumar.
“It’s really to become India’s answer to Disney.”
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