In the middle of all the anti-Section 377 videos released, possibly the one that best summarizes Indian attitudes and perceptions towards same-sex love or attraction is ‘Coming Out Of The Kitchen Closet’, the recent sketch published by The Viral Fever on YouTube.
In the sketch, we see that two young men who have been clandestinely eating non-vegetarian food ask for the guidance of a female spiritual guru Mata Rambabe (by YouTube superstar Superwoman) who proclaims to be able to heal people of their carnivorous desires. The uproarious video is the newest example of The Viral Fever’s aptitude to take any subject and yoke humor out of it in a distinctive and fundamentally Indian way.
The ‘Section 377 Qtiyapa’ is just an example. ‘The Bollywood Aam Aadmi Party: Arnab Qtiyapa’, which mimics Times Now news anchor Arnab Goswami’s style of interviewing. This brings out the resemblances between Indian political parties and the various Bollywood camps. It is the most popular video of all time with over 3.2 million views.
These hits have given The Viral Fever’s YouTube channel around half a million subscribers. Arunabh Kumar, the Founder CEO calls TVF the “biggest youth entertainment network in India”. It is surprising still… how an IITian refused by MTV formed his own youth channel and climbed up the success ladder.
In the tough initial days, Arunabh Kumar did not have enough money for the promotions. This is where organic growth helped when his first video became popular in the IITs and NITs. As a result of this brilliant marketing strategy of organic chain and recommendation flows, TVF got him almost a million views in less than 5 days. The target audience has always been, since then, the college youth with laptops, cell phones and access to internet.
Although TVF is mainly known as a YouTube channel, the importance is on network. The channel is just part of one of their five divisions. The company was started to create “branded content” and become a one-stop comedy hub. It scaled up with five divisions. The remaining divisions are: the event-focused TVF Live by comedian Vipul, TVF Branded Entertainment making online content for customers like Colgate and Dharma Productions, TVF New Media Production creating corporate videos and TVF TV Production.
The business that brings in the revenues that help bankroll their most visible product is The Viral Fever video channel. However, focus lies on the division that does not get revenues. TVF plans to increase their revenue base making more original sketches. This brings to my mind their Chai Sutta Chronicles, which brings out the various conversations men share over tea and cigarette breaks, he tells us. This has a small, yet, a dedicated audience (300,000 to 400,000 viewers per episode). It seems like India’s version of a smaller Seinfeld.
The Viral Fever team is an impressive group of around 20 permanent writers, editors, actors, directors and cameramen. Through the years, the team was formed through college mates and common friends in the film and theatre worlds or the interns they hire or who realise whether they work best as writers, directors, producers, actors, or cameramen.
Their sources of inspiration are Monty Python, Wagle Ki Duniya, Mungerilal Ke Haseen Sapne and Flop Show.
TVF ensures that the content it creates keeps the product placement subtle even though the fun part is fairly broad. One aspect that works at an advantage for TVF is that the approaching brands come with the same mindset because they could go to an ad agency if they wanted a typical ad. TVF leverages on the fact that users watch content that is entertaining, brand comes next. Entertainment should be the priority.
I think TVF stands out because they reflect the society and the truth associated with it, pointing out the humor in commonplace occurrences. For instance a guy being friendzoned – as the antagonist of the sketch ‘Ek Thi Behen’, a parody of Bollywood flick Ek Thi Daayan, does by making a brother out of the boys in love with her. These instances are largely exaggerated for sure but they manage stay realistic enough. This ensures that every viewer tells in his mind, “Yes, I’ve been there before”.
Another value proposition and the critical factor to the success of TVF is their capability to make things look effortless when in reality it’s the outcome of a well- research process.
TVF looks ahead to becoming a world-dominating entertainment enterprise along the lines of Disney. For now, they surely have their pulse on the Indian audience. This they achieved by carefully strategizing the what-to-do and the how-to-do part of their content and process complemented by a very clear goal of the entrepreneur, Arunabh Kumar.
(This article is written by Debalina Haldar, class of 2015 student at IIM Lucknow. Her novel, The Female Ward, was published in May, 2013. She is the Creative Head and Core Coordinator of the Media and Communication Cell at IIM Lucknow.)