The Viral Fever (TVF), known for hit shows such as Panchayat and Kota factoryis in the process of becoming a full-fledged film production house as it introduces a film department.
Registered as TVF Motion Pictures in April, the company is managed by Arunabh Kumar, according to Tofler. The film department has between five and six projects in the works, which can span three formats. This includes big-budget films with A-list actors, mid-budget films, and films for streaming platforms.
“Making movies is the ultimate end dream for any content company. This is a natural progression for us,” said Vijay Koshy, President of The Viral Fever Your story in an interaction.
TVF is operated by Contagious Online Media Networks and was founded in 2012. The journey started when Arunabh Kumar, an IIT Kharagpur graduate with film and advertising experience, and some other IITians started posting videos on YouTube. The first, a parody ragging video called Infamous seniorsinspired by Quentin Tarantino Inglourious Basterds.
The breakthrough of the YouTube channel came this year rowdiesa parody of reality tv show roadiesquickly became known.
This was the time when India’s digital ecosystem was taking shape. Bengaluru has witnessed the birth of numerous technology companies. These include e-commerce giant Flipkart, beauty retailer Nykaa and taxi aggregator Ola, all of which have found their place in the burgeoning digital space.
These companies helped TVF grow as many tech startups sponsored videos for YouTube-based content creators. After creating several spoof and parody videos, TVF launched its first web series, Permanent roommates (2014), which was supported by CommonFloor (acquired by Quickr) and Ola Cabs. It followed pitchers (2015), a show based on India’s startup culture.
The content company released at least one show on YouTube each year.
The team also expanded to include Sameer Saxena, who left his comfortable consulting job and got involved in directing Permanent roommatesand Nidhi Bisht, a former attorney-turned-casting director who made guest appearances on many shows and videos.
In 2015, TVF launched a free streaming platform, TVF Play.
“We’ve shown shows on YouTube, but we felt that the platform’s feed didn’t present our content well,” says a TVF employee, who has asked for anonymity. “People couldn’t remember the name of our production house when they thought about it Permanent roommates. The brand was lost.”
Digital entertainment ecosystem
Meanwhile, the digital entertainment ecosystem in India was taking shape. Streaming giants like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video broke ground and launched 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 soon attracted institutional investment, raising $10 million in its first-ever round in 2016, led by Tiger Global Management.
In the same year, TVF also set up an office in Delhi to receive more local content from North India. Led by a team that included Apoorva Singh Karki as creative director, the department produced several shows with Delhi as the backdrop. This included bourgeois comedies Aam Aadmi family (2016), Teenage Romance Flames (2018) and coming-of-age drama candidate (2021). candidate currently has about 50 million views according to YouTube.
In order to continue growing, the company has set itself the goal of publishing content on streaming platforms.
A show in development about a family’s journey in the 90’s was presented to Netflix and Prime Video and was set to be sponsored by the State Bank of India (SBI).
However, TVF’s plan was scrapped in March 2017 after an anonymous contributor Middle called out founder Arunabh Kumar for sexual harassment in the workplace. The company initially denied the allegations and caused extremely bad press.
A week after the anonymous post, an FIR was registered against Arunabh and several women reported allegations of workplace misconduct.
The web channel’s CEO resigned from his post, posting an open letter on Twitter and claiming that the company will “always be bigger than just one person”.
Arunabh was replaced by Dhawal Gusain, who currently serves as Chief Executive Officer (CEO) at Disney+ Hotstar and also joined the company’s board in 2015.
But the allegations had made waves. The company’s image took a hit and SBI withdrew its sponsorship deal as well. A query sent to SBI has not elicited a response as of the publication of this story.
The problems kept piling up. are please!, A show released in the month the allegations surfaced was suffering from poor ratings and declining viewership.
After SBI pulled out, TVF was in talks with Amazon Prime Video for Yeh Meri family, according to a former employee. Among other things, the platform had even worked on the subtitling, but stopped the show.
“We had finished the show. Everything was done. So we finally decided to only publish it on YouTube,” says the former employee, who asked not to be identified.
Yeh Meri family Premiered on YouTube and TVFPlay in July 2018 with the Association of Mutual Funds in India (AMFI) as title sponsor.
“Sometimes there are situations where multiple brands want to work with TVF on a particular show. But to preserve the sanctity of the content, we prefer to have a partner in a show. In the case of Yeh Meri Family, working with the Association of Mutual Funds (AMFI) was more business and creative, so we chose AMFI as a branding partner for this show,” TVF said in an email response.
The show was picked up by Netflix after a few episodes aired, making it the first TVF production to be released on a streaming platform.
Since then, TVF has attracted sponsorships from top gamers, including edtech platform Unacademy for Kota factory and candidateboth of which received critical acclaim. Gullak, Cheesecake, cabinsand Hostel Daze have also found their own audience, with GullakThe third season has been very well received.
Panchayatwhich was released during the pandemic, currently has an exclusive licensing deal with Amazon Prime Video.
TVF currently employs 175 people and is currently developing over 20 shows and several YouTube sponsored videos. The videos provide analysis and help the platform develop concepts for new shows.
Arunabh may have left the CEO position, but he never left the creative chair. For most of the aforementioned shows, he serves as either a producer, creator, or both.
However, a massive restructuring has been taking place in the company since 2020.
Core member Sameer Saxena, who directed Permanent roommate and was executive producer on the first season of Kota factory, gullak, and Panchayat, left the TVF umbrella in June 2020 to start his own production house, Posham Pa Pictures Pvt. GmbH.
Other core members of TVF including Biswapati Sarkar, creator of the show and host of Hardly spoken to Arnub; Amit Golani, author of many TVF videos and shows including cabins; and Saurabh Khanna who wrote Yeh Meri family and Kota factoryjoined Sameer.
TVF enters the movie space in the post-pandemic world, at a time when megastars, marketing dollars, studios and even “decent” stories have failed to lure audiences back into theaters.
The company is aware of the current market and public mood.
“Movies with A-list actors will be more difficult because of the stakes involved. In addition, the industry is currently going through a difficult phase. The trust level is not very high,” says Vijay of TVF.
Because of this, the company plans to produce its A-list projects with other production companies. “We’re currently in talks with some big banners in the industry,” says Vijay.
TVF plans to have at least one project in theaters by the end of 2023.