THE You Tube SUPERSTARS
The YouTube fan fest had the medium’s top attractions, all performing under one roof, in Mumbai. Needless to say, it was a full house and a complete laugh riot. Which got us thinking, how do these widely different content creators manage to grab viewers by the balls? To find out the answer, we spoke to a carefully selected and varied list of four creators.
You know you’re down with The Viral Fever ( TVF) if words like ‘Qtiyapa’ are now a part of your daily conversations. Well, we know we are. But the story behind TVF goes way beyond their YouTube channel. Arunabh Kumar, Founder and CEO of TVF Group, landed in Mumbai in 2006, fresh out of IIT Kharagpur, with a million dreams and zero means to achieve them. He started off as a research consultant with the US Air Force, but it didn’t take him long to realise that this wasn’t his calling. After an initial struggle, he landed a ‘dream job’ at Red Chillies as an assistant director with Farah Khan. Then, in 2010, he started his own production house—Outsiders Creations—which was later renamed The Viral Fever Media Labs. “I just wanted to create a show that you and I would watch, and I realised that there were no shows like that on Indian television, and no matter what channel you were on, you were force-fed the typical family drama,” said Arunabh, making quotation signs in the air. We sat across his desk, while he caught his breath between creative sessions. And, by creative sessions, we mean a large room with a large white board on one side and several bean bags and mats sprawled across on the other, with him scribbling endless abbreviations, while a bunch of guys who look like college freshers interject with ideas—an ordinary brainstorming session. “I decided to make corporate films and create branded content and invest the money earned from it into TVF,” he continued.
Since their first video in the summer of 2011, The Inglorious Seniors, TVF’s popularity has only skyrocketed. But the initial idea, with which Kumar stepped into this space—the intention of telling identifiable stories with softer emotions—was yet to materialise. “We had to stall it for a couple of years just so that we could build a stable audience base,” said Kumar. The strategy worked, and TVF fans lapped up their original drama series— Permanent Roommates, which became one of the most-watched branded properties globally—an initiative completely different from TVF- Qtiyapa (comedy) and TVF-Recycle Bin (non-fiction), called TVF-Drama. The show, conceived entirely for CommonFloor, the brand partner, makes us wonder, how the viewers stand to benefit in this brandcontent integration. “The best part about the internet is that the power or the choice lies with the viewer. If there are millions of viewers visiting TVF every day, watching the videos we’ve created, it means we’ve struck a chord. And they trust us,” clarified Kumar. TVF has since created videos for over 20 brands, including the likes of Flipkart, Airtel, Head & Shoulders, Shiksha.com, etc., and have learnt to do it seamlessly after a lot of hard work.
Kumar further revealed how the idea of integrating film promotions into digital content was pioneered by them after the success of one of their videos, Rowdies. “Some 25 brands approached
us, offering to fund our work in exchange for brand integration. But the idea of integrating film promotions was a first for, I think, anyone, when we were approached by Dharma Productions before the release of Student of the Year. That’s how Gaana wala Song happened, which was later followed by The Gangs of Social Media on Valentine’s Day of 2013,” said Kumar. This inadvertently paved the path for parodies getting mainstream acceptance, something Bollywood in particular, and society in general, have been averse to in the past. “Since then, we’ve worked with Nautanki Sala, Kill Dill, Shorts, Super Chor and Happy New Year, and many more are to come,” added Kumar.
Kumar feels that movie integrations work in two ways, “While we get to collaborate with people like SRK and Anurag Kashyap, many small budget films get a lot of mileage because of us, something they couldn’t have achieved otherwise,” he explained. Case in point, Suleimani Keeda, which was released by TVF online, got a massive viewer response.
Ask him about TVF’s plans and Kumar will throw a million ideas at you. It might even seem a bit too ambitious— Permanent Roommates Season 2 and a new show called Pitchers, both by this year, the idea of venturing into full fledged movie-making, with, of course, the ultimate aim of becoming a media conglomerate that curates, creates and disseminates content—and judging by their graph so far, you know they will get there. Ask him how instrumental YouTube has been in chalking out the path, and he gleefully responds, “It’s been crucial. I always wanted to make shows but I couldn’t do so for Indian television. YouTube worked like cable TV for us, making our content available to millions, and for free!” So, while TVF celebrates reaching one million subscribers this year, making them one of the most subscribed channels in Asia, all we can say is, keep the videos coming!
and other creative processes, SDE’s USP is the animation, which is the most time-consuming and expensive side of it, and of course, the most attention-grabbing too. “Our focus from the start has been not to copy anyone, we wanted to create original content that would stand out from the rest and carve a niche of its own and we knew that opportunity was available in the animation space,” said Anand, and it is safe to say, they have achieved that. “When we realised our videos were being appreciated, we decided to pump in more cash from other channels.”
The self-funded company, a brainchild of Co-Founders Sudhir Bagul, (Chief Strategy Officer) and Jagdish Thakkar (Chief Financial Officer) along with Anand, started off with just a couple of channels—a tech show and a dating show—on YouTube, where these guys put in their own money to set the ball rolling. “When we started, YouTube had helped us a lot with the marketing and that gave us the initial push. In those days, the policies were very different, wherein they used to encourage and back original content in every way. YouTube ads were our sole income source and we always made sure that the return on investment was high. Luckily, so far we’ve not had to go for external funding, but this year onwards, we will be raising funds through venture capitalists,” Anand added. At the moment, apart from YouTube ads, the company’s revenue comes from invideo-branding and partnerships, like their recent tie-up with IIT-B’s Mood-Indigo as humour partner.
The studio currently has a team of around 35 people, including 15 animators, but they are looking to expand not just the team, but their content spectrum and audience demographic as well. “We are open to collaborating with film production houses and working towards promoting movies through our videos,” Anand said of the recent trend of Bollywood integrating its promotions with popular YouTube channels. “It’s an interesting thought, who knows maybe we can have the stars do the voice-overs for our videos too! The possibilities are endless and we are ready,” he concluded. Let’s face it, we’ve all at some point in our life watched a movie and wondered if it should have ended differently. Or, had an opinion about how a particular scene turned out or a character shaped up. In a nation that feeds on Bollywood, every soul with a social media presence is a movie reviewer. And thus, Shudh Desi Endings (SDE), a digital channel from CDS (Click Digital Studios), with its quirky spoof videos, immediately struck a chord with the Bollywood-minded desi audience. Result? Over 2,00,000 subscribers and approximately seven million views on a monthly basis for SDE alone. Though Mumbai-based CDS, the parent company that owns SDE, has a portfolio of 70odd channels and a 1.5 million strong subscriber base and produces content in categories as varied as music, Bollywood and Hollywood gossip, kids entertainment, food, fitness, technology, devotional and many others, SDE remains its principal revenue generator.
As my photographer and I step into CDS’s colourful and fun office in suburban Mumbai, we’re greeted by this massively tall man, all of 27, who happens to be the Co-Founder and Chief Creative Officer, Anand Doshi. One look around and you wouldn’t miss the familiar faces from their animated online videos—the life-size standees of Shah Rukh Khan from the Ra.One spoof, a rather happy Kamal Khan and an unusually hairy Sunny Deol from the Ragini MMS spoof, among others. After a brief introduction to the company, I asked Anand what inspired SDE. “The idea for SDE came from the Hollywood YouTube channel How it should have ended. We thought this space was open in Bollywood and it would be fun to experiment. It all started with a simple idea of playing around with the endings of movies,” started Anand, as we sat across a conference table. Behind him was the animation team’s cabin which would suddenly come alive with the sound of laughter mid conversation, and above our heads, the first floor was dedicated to the creative team.
Of all the original humorous content available on YouTube, SDE stands out simply because of the sheer amount of hard work that goes into producing a single video. Along with the scripting
With over 1,42,983 subscribers and cumulative views of 18,798,284, this boy band is the next big thing in Indian music. The lead vocalist, Sanam Puri, the lyricist and guitarist, Samar Puri, the lead guitarist Venky S and drummer, Keshav Dhanraj, started the band Sanam for the love of music. From there onwards, performing at concerts, producing original songs and uploading them with a video on YouTube has been a part of their exercise for gaining popularity on the web.
Had their fans known that the band was at Hard Rock Cafe Worli, it would have been a riot situation for us. Early in the morning, Sanam, the band, clearly wasn’t here for a gig, they were here for a tête-à-tête with Mandate. Talking about their growth as a band on YouTube, Sanam Puri says, “It’s not the only option that we have but it’s the best option, so we chose YouTube for our song release. Obviously, you cannot release one song in an album. Once people see our videos on the internet, they get to know the quality of our work.” On similar lines, Venky makes a point or two about using YouTube for independent music. He says, “Music channels showcase more of Bollywood and reality shows. Television is not a buyer for independent music. Secondly, it’s a result of the changing trend. Earlier, releasing an album was the thing, nowadays nobody buys an album or a CD. This way, you have a better connect with your followers because people get to see you through videos, which creates a bridge.” Tuning his guitar chords for a jamming session, Samar seconds, “Absolutely true, YouTube is the best platform to promote talent, especially for independent music. People don’t meet us in real life but they follow us on Twitter, like our Facebook page and they are well- connected to us. Everyone out there is using social media on a daily basis. We are just making use of it.”