If you thought The Viral Fever, or TVF, was just a bunch of quirkily funny guys on the internet, think again: there is method to their madness. In the first investment of its kind in the country, Tiger Global recently put $10 million into the online entertainment provider.
Right from its website to TVF's shows online, the company strives to break away from the humdrum of television and establish itself as an experimental content hub. So much so that founder & CEO Arunabh Kumar, an Indian Institute of Technology Kharagpur alumnus, expands his designation to creative experiment officer.
TVF produces content and deploys it across portals such as YouTube, and also operates its own platform called TVFPlay. The platform includes the various webisodes produced by TVF under different properties: TVF Originals, TVF Qtiyapa, TVF Screen Patti and TVF Favourites.
TVF operates within it two verticals: TVF ONE (Online Network of Experience) and TVF Media Labs. The former deals with creation and dissemination of experience and content for the Indian youth via internet-connected devices, while TVF Media Labs engages brands for producing content online and through live events. TVF employs about 100 people who are based in Mumbai and New Delhi.
Branded content forms the core of Kumar's business model. According to him, if content is allowed to shine then native advertising can be a profitable model for business. "Our core competence lies in content. We have a consumer base that fits into the TG that most brands are focusing on, allowing us to charge a premium on the association." He adds that so far, the business model has proven profitable.
TVF also produces original content that may not necessarily be part of the native advertising model. In this case, if brands are willing to come on board, it happens through placement within the webisode.
As a result of this model's success, Kumar is not worried about being a free access service to consumers. "Even in case of satellite TV, which has been around for more than two decades, subscription is still not the bulk of revenues. On digital, it is even less likely. As of now, we are happy associating with brands," he says.
The $10 million from Tiger Global, according to him, will be deployed towards streamlining processes within the organisation and producing more content.
He does feel that the entry of big players in the OTT space like Eros (ErosNow), Viacom18 (VOOT) and Netflix will cause disruption in the pay market. "It's the big guys who will become market educators in terms of paid services."
Slowly and surely
In fact, TVF wants to be different things to people across genres. So when it comes to drama, it aims to produce content at par with the likes of HBO and Netflix, but as a brand among the youth it wants to be as omnipresent at MTV (the youth brand from Viacom18).
Competition for TVF comes in the form of other digital content players like AIB and East India Comedy. However, all three have carved a different niche for themselves. Unlike TVF, neither of the two has raised funds so far, though AIB struck a deal with Star India for a 10 episode series called AIB On-Air which was shown on the Star India television network and its digital platform, hotstar.
Explaining that everyone is different with different content sensibilities, Kumar stresses that there is enough room for the three (and more) digital content creators to exist. "We could not have something like AIB Roast or On-Air with AIB. It's their forte; their take on current affairs and their idea of commentary," he says.
Aiming for the theatre
After establishing itself in the digital content space, TVF now wants to take things a notch higher: it has aspirations to enter the theatrical movie business. Well aware that the movie business is tricky and unpredictable, Kumar and company intend to tie up with one of the leading studios in the country, conversations for which are already on, he says.
"People usually throw money at a problem. We believe in throwing brain and time, both of which we have in abundance at TVF. We are in no hurry to make a big theatrical product, but we definitely want to do that," says Kumar.
Being a creative production house is next on TVF's growth plans, and going by the success of outfits like Phantom Films, it may prove to be a successful venture.
Phantom, which was launched by directors Anurag Kashyap, Vikas Bahl and Vikramaditya Motwane along with media entrepreneur Madhu Mantena, develops scripts and approaches studios which then pick up stake in the project, helping with production, marketing and distribution in return.