The Viral Fever (TVF), known for its hit shows such as Panchayat and Kota Factoryis becoming a full-fledged film production house by rolling out a film division.
Registered as TVF Motion Pictures in April, the company will be headed by Arunabh Kumar, according to data on Töfler. The film division has between five and six projects underway, which could be spread across three formats. These include high-budget movies with top-notch actors, mid-budget movies, and movies for streaming platforms.
“Making movies is the absolute dream of any content company. It’s a natural progression for us,” said Vijay Koshy, President of The Viral Fever. Your story in an interaction.
Run by Contagious Online Media Networks, TVF was founded in 2012. The journey started when Arunabh Kumar, a graduate of IIT-Kharagpur with a background in film and advertising, and a few other IITians started posting videos on Youtube. The first, a ragging video parody named Inglourious Seniorsinspired by Quentin Tarantino Inglourious Basterds.
The defining moment for the YouTube channel came that year when Roguea parody of reality tv Roadiesgone viral.
This was the time when India’s digital ecosystem was taking shape. Bangalore has seen the birth of many technology companies. These include e-commerce giant Flipkart, beauty retailer Nykaa and taxi aggregator Ola, which have found their way into the emerging digital space.
These companies helped TVF grow, as many tech startups were sponsoring videos for YouTube-based content creators. After creating multiple spoof and parody videos, TVF launched its first web series, Permanent roommates (2014), supported by CommonFloor (acquired by Quickr) and Ola Cabs. This was followed by Pitchers (2015), a show based on Indian startup culture.
The content company continued to release at least one show every year on YouTube.
The team also grew to include Sameer Saxena, who left his cushy consulting job behind and got involved in the making Permanent roommatesand Nidhi Bisht, a former lawyer, who was appointed as a casting director and made cameos in numerous shows and videos.
In 2015, TVF launched a free streaming platform, TVF Play.
“We streamed shows on YouTube, but felt that the platform’s feed didn’t present our content well,” said a TVF employee, speaking on condition of anonymity. “People weren’t able to remember the name of our production company when they thought of Permanent roommates. The mark was lost.
Digital entertainment ecosystem
Now, the digital entertainment ecosystem was taking shape in India. Streaming giants such as Netflix and Amazon Prime Video laid the groundwork and then rolled out their services in 2016.
The potential for streaming services in India seemed immense, and TVF seemed to be in the right place at the right time.
The company quickly attracted institutional investment, raising $10 million in its first-ever seed round led by Tiger Global Management in 2016.
In the same year, TVF also opened an office in Delhi to get more local content from North India. Led by a team including Apoorva Singh Karki as creative head, the division has produced several shows with Delhi as the backdrop. These included middle-class comedy-drama Aam Admi Family (2016), teenage romance Flames (2018) and coming-of-age drama Aspirants (2021). Aspirants currently has approximately 50 million viewsaccording to YouTube.
Eager to expand further, the company has set its sights on delivering content to streaming platforms.
A show in development about a family’s journey to the 90s has been shown to Netflix and Prime Video, and was to be sponsored by the State Bank of India (SBI).
However, TVF’s plan was canceled in March 2017 after an anonymous message on Medium called founder Arunabh Kumar for sexual harassment in the workplace. The company initially denied the allegations, generating very bad press.
An FIR was filed against Arunabh a week after the anonymous posting, and several women came forward with allegations of workplace misconduct.
The web channel’s CEO has resigned, posting an open letter on Twitter and saying the company will “always be bigger than one individual”.
Arunabh was replaced by Dhawal Gusain, who is currently at Disney+ Hotstar, as Chief Executive Officer (CEO) and also joined the company’s board in 2015.
But the allegations had created ripples. The company’s image took a hit and SBI also withdrew its sponsorship deal. A query sent to SBI elicited no response until this story was published.
The problems continued to escalate. Bisht please!, a show released the month the allegations surfaced, suffered from poor ratings and declining viewership.
After SBI pulled out, TVF was in talks with Amazon Prime Video to Yeh Meri Family, according to a former employee. The platform had even worked on the subtitling, among other things, but dropped the show.
“We were done doing the show. Everything has been done. So, we finally decided to broadcast it only on YouTube, ”explains the former employee on condition of anonymity.
Yeh Meri Family premiered on YouTube and TVFPlay in July 2018, with the Association of Mutual Funds in India (AMFI) as the main sponsor.
“Sometimes it happens that several brands wish to partner with TVF for a particular show. But to maintain the sanctity of the content, we prefer to have a partner on a show. In the case of Yeh Meri Family, the collaboration with the Association of Mutual Funds (AMFI) made more business and creative sense, so we opted for AMFI as our brand partner for this show,” TVF said in an email response.
The show was picked up by Netflix after a few episodes aired, becoming the first TVF production to be released on a streaming platform.
Since then, TVF has attracted sponsorship from top actors, including edtech platform Unacademy for Kota Factory and Aspirantsboth critically acclaimed. Gullak, cheesecake, Cabinsand Daze Youth Hostel also found their own audience, with Gullakthe third season of being very well received.
Panchayatwhich was released during the pandemic, is currently under an exclusive license agreement with Amazon Prime Video.
TVF, which now employs 175 people, currently has over 20 shows and several YouTube-sponsored videos in development. The videos provide analysis and help the platform come up with concepts for new shows.
Arunabh may have left the CEO position, but he never left the creative direction. Most of the previously mentioned shows have him as a producer, creator, or both.
However, there has been a massive restructuring of the company since 2020.
Sameer Saxena, core member, who led Permanent Flatmates and served as executive producer on the first season of Kota Factory, Gullak, and Panchayat, left the TVF umbrella in June 2020 to set up his own production house Posham Pa Pictures Pvt. ltd.
Other core members of TVF, including Biswapati Sarkar, the show’s creator and host of Barely speaking with Arnub; Amit Golani, writer on many TVF videos and shows including Cabins; and Saurabh Khanna, who wrote Yeh Meri Family and Kota Factoryjoins Sameer.
TVF is entering the movie space in the post-pandemic world, at a time when mega stars, marketing dollars, studios and even “decent” stories have failed to bring audiences back to theaters .
The company is aware of the current market and public sentiment.
“Films with leading actors will be trickier because of the stakes involved. Also, the industry is going through a tough time right now. The level of trust is not very high,” says Vijay from TVF.
That’s why the company plans to produce its A-list projects with other production companies. “We are currently in talks with a few big banners in the industry,” says Vijay.
TVF plans to release at least one project theatrically by the end of 2023.