This is probably why those who once wanted to work in television and then graduate to movies are now happy to produce video shows for the internet where the successes and failures are as unpredictable as number of retweets one might get on a tweet, but where good attempts are often appreciated by the discerning audience which knows how to separate the wheat from the chaff. Such is the story of Arunabh Kumar.
Kumar is the creator of The Viral Fever, a content and entertainment focussed company which has a YouTube channel with over 14 lakh followers to its name and over 12 flagship shows by now, which come up with videos every few weeks, each with 10 lakh views or so.
Circa 2011, Kumar approached MTV and a few other channels with ideas for youth oriented shows but he was shown the door. The audience in India is not yet mature for these shows, he was told. This made him only more determined to create shows that entertain and engage an increasingly young viewership which isn’t looking to see saas-bahu shows for the rest of their lives.
By the end of last year, TVF’s original drama series, Permanent Roommates, a show about a girl next door in a complications filled relationship with a non resident Indian who lands up in the country to marry her, had scaled over eight million viewers in just five episodes and won accolades from all over.
The director of the show, Sameer Saxena, claims that this is the third most watched web-series on YouTube. “Our numbers speak for us,” Saxena said, while speaking to Scroll. “The last episode is 38 minutes long and in a time when the attention spans are not longer than a few seconds, it is immensely motivating to see content being appreciated.”
All about entertainment
Now, the company is all set to launch a new show called "Pitchers" in the next few weeks, based on the life of entrepreneurs which, the team insists, is a drama series instead of plain comedy. "Our scripts follow a story line and not throw jokes one after the other," said Kumar. "Pitchers is a glamorous movie with the whole ensemble, actors, props and everything else one can imagine. We have tried to make it broadcast quality so that people don't feel the dip in experience when watching this show versus watching a movie in cinema halls."
On a different boat is Vishwajoy Mukherjee, one of the founders of Pechkas Pictures which has created a recently launched web-series called "Baked" in collaboration with the content curation website ScoopWhoop. The series traces the lives of three college graduates who decide to start up a venture, but things go downhill soon and adventure ensues.
“It is not a show about entrepreneurship, it is about life of three students who ruin everything they get into,” he says. “What we want to do here is to push the envelope a bit and redefine what Indians see as a show and give them the experience of a 'Game of Thrones' or a 'Big Bang Theory' for free."
Both shows have plot-lines which aren't close to anything that one would get to watch on television, and actors who aren’t stars yet. But the reason Kumar and Mukherjee could take the leap is the internet revolution that has added a new contender in the arena, which is also playing the role of a leveller as traffic shifts from TV to the internet via online videos.
Last year, Indians watched over 23 billion minutes of videos online each month and an average user watched 432 minutes of videos in a month. This year, when Google released the statistics for YouTube’s video consumption in India, AIB and TVF turned out to be the favourites among audiences. Predictably, the website invited TVF to represent India in the first ever Global Creator’s Summit in New York where participants shared best practices and their secrets of success.
Surfing the web
Even as the AIBs and TVFs get recognised worldwide, there are those in India who are just venturing into the domain, given easy access to the platform and letting internet showcase their work as they figure out their own niches.
One such start-up is Sortedd TV, a YouTube channel with a little over 30,000 subscribers amassed from just 45 videos done over a span of one year. Out of these, two went extremely viral and amassed close to 1.4 million views each. Jaisal Rathee, the founder of the channel, an outgoing final year student at the University of Delhi, feels that television needs to be saved from itself.
“The content quality on the internet has improved 1000 times in the last 10 years and it is true for India as well,” said Rathee. “What we are seeing is a surge in people flocking to the internet for better content than the stuff they find on their television day after day.”
Apart from the ability to put all types of content online, there are other benefits which accrue to producers making content for the web instead of TV.
“It is important to show viewers the content as it deserves to be shown,” says Mukherjee, the creator of "Baked". “The tyranny of TV channels changes the show by the time it reaches the last episode so it’s better for us to go web-only first and then explore other mediums.”
Arunabh Kumar from TVF agrees but claims that the medium can be no excuse for quality. “In 100 years of movie making, we still produce one good movie in three years,” Kumar said. “The same is the case with TV, you will still want to watch "Malgudi Days" on your tablets but you won’t want to watch what runs these days. The case is the same with internet, if you give content, people will watch it for years.”
Kumar said that the idea is to focus on quality much more than anything else and let technology become a catalyst of growth. “Internet is not magic by itself,” he said. “We need to keep our fundamentals strong and tell a good story.”
Are these shows set to replace TV?
“For some segments, it could become a reality,” said Rathee. “We are seeing a surge in the internet traffic but the audience still likes to watch MTV. The content has to mature and people have to make much better stuff first to even expect that but entertainment is gaining traction on YouTube.”
On the other hand, Mukherjee feels that even though it has just begun, the culture of web-only shows could make it possible. “Internet-only shows are going to be normative in a few years,” he said. “Then the ecosystem will develop and the economy will take birth and then we can think of giving up our TV sets and get better internet subscriptions.”
Kumar from TVF, feels that the company is set to be the next HBO for India but is unsure about others. “We don’t have too many good creators in the country,” he said. “Internet will provide a playing ground for all to test content and formats but TV is mostly bad so it’s an opportunity. Some of these shows will be watched by more people online than their expected viewership on TV.”
“The audience will follow good content wherever it goes,” he summed up.
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