9 out of 10 of our shows are successful: Sameer Saxena, TVF

The Viral Fever (TVF) recently announced their first show for Amazon Prime Video, called ‘Hostel Daze’. The show will be exclusively available as a Prime Video Original, making it the content creator’s first exclusive show that will be behind the paywall. 

It has been a remarkable year for TVF. The brand has created shows for almost every leading OTT platform in the Indian ecosystem and keeps growing their branded content pie. They released 12 shows this year, 8 of which were completely new IPs. Their branded content ‘Kota Factory’ recently beat Netflix original ‘Sacred Games’ to top the IMDb list of Indian television and web series. 

TVF is a unique animal in the OTT space, where they license their content to other platforms but also have their inhouse platform called TVF Play. They also do a massive amount of short form content available on the streaming service, YouTube. With their unique offering of digital content, the brand is a mix of content creator, production house, and streaming service. 

In conversation with Adgully, Sameer Saxena, Chief Content Officer, TVF, speaks about the ambitions of the company, their content slate for 2020 and their content philosophy. 

What do people think of when they hear about ‘TVF’?

When people hear the word ‘TVF’, they imagine the best storytellers in the country irrespective of the platform. There has to be something different about our shows. 

We are not like a traditional production house because we do an enormous amount of short form and branded content. We also do long form branded content which is available on TVF Play. Our primary focus is to do stories while some may work well as branded content, others perform better on platforms. 

Do you envision a future where you are only producing long form content?

Not really. Short form is here to stay and while we may want to trim it down in the future, right now, there is an audience for it. 

Most OTT Originals are 10 part series. How did Amazon Prime Video agree to do a 5 part series?

Who defines that a web series should be 10 episodes or 8 episodes? We are getting used to a 10-episode series, so we assume every show will have 10 episodes. The way we look at it, a story should dictate the number of episodes. There have been 6-episode series like the show ‘Fleabag’ with a 23 minute duration that have worked very well. This show was made when almost every other show had 10 episodes and 50 minute duration. 

This is the first time your show has gone exclusively behind the paywall. Do you believe this raises the expectations from the content?

On a paid platform the expectations do go up, however, when a consumer comes on a paid platform they have already invested some time on the platform. On a free platform like YouTube, there is no compulsion for them to stay, so the content has to be really good for him to choose to stay. Just because content is free, it doesn’t mean the consumer is going to spend his time because you have a lot of options. At the end, content has to be good or it will fail regardless of a paid platform or a free platform. 

What is your content strategy?

We have two models. One is a licensing model and the other is branded. The branded model has been growing for a while, but we started the licensing model this year and have our content available on almost all the leading OTTs. These are the two segments we want to continue expanding on and there is a huge opportunity in both. 

We have been doing branded content since ‘Permanent Roommates’ Season 1. That’s why you see brands like Unacademy investing in a show like ‘Kota Factory’, which is India’s first black and white show. Brands are beginning to have confidence in our shows because we have delivered great shows consistently. 

You cater to the youth audience, have they been under served?

When we started out, there was nothing for this audience. The two mediums at that time were TV and films which the young audience was not always keen to watch. Our focus has been to give the audience something new and different. In the last year, other storytellers have also told stories which are different and unique. There is a lot of demand, but the supply is still inadequate. As long as they are getting good content they will keep consuming it. 

How do you keep the content fresh?

There is a comment section on both TVFPlay and YouTube, where we immediately get a response once a show goes up. That gives us an idea of what’s working and what’s not working. We’ve had a phenomenal learning from those comments for 6-7 years. There is one comment that is always being made that ‘this is not up to TVF standard’. Now, we don’t know what TVF standard is! But when we match it, we get comments like ‘TVF always surprises us’ and ‘TVF is better than Bollywood’. That’s perhaps why 9 out of 10 of our shows are successful. The key to keeping it fresh is the hard work and the learning. 

What will be the future of TVF Play if you keep licensing your content to other platforms?

We will be focusing on keeping the branded content on TVF Play. It is not an opportunity loss because OTT platforms’ serve a different audience segment. While we may not get the eyeballs, the audience will be aware of brand TVF via those platforms. So, it helps from a brand awareness point of view. 

Are you going to foray into regional content?

We have dubbed couple of our shows in regional languages which have done reasonably well. Now, we are getting into original shows in regional languages. We are currently working on a Marathi show that is going to come out in January 2020. If that is successful we will look at content in Tamil and Telugu as well. 

What was the strategy behind launching sister channels on YouTube, such as ‘Screen Patti’, ‘Girliyappa’ and ‘Timeliners’?

We used to create all our content and put it on the main channel which made it cluttered. When we made ‘Girliyappa’, there was no channel catering to the female audience and there were a lot of stories to be told. We thought, let’s create a channel only for the female audience. The same went for ‘Timeliners’, which is a slice of life channel. ‘Screenpatti’ is dedicated to making spoofs on films and TV shows. 

In your shows, the narrative is driving the story not the big name Hero? Why?

People are open to new faces and talent on digital platforms. So we asked, why should we give them the old faces? TVF has given this country digital stars like Sumeet Vyas, Manvi Gagroo, Amol Parashar, and before Gajraj Sir became famous in ‘Badhai Ho’, he worked with us for the first time on ‘Tech with Dad’. There is so much talent out there who can be used on this medium. We always try to work with new guys, not just actors but writers and directors, to keep the story fresh. 

Will you experiment with new content formats and genres?

We might foray into Podcasts. You will definitely see something from us in the non-fiction space. It might be a reality show or docu-series. Such formats haven’t been explored for the digital medium in India. 

You were part of the Emmy Jury this year. What are TVF’s chances at winning an Emmy in the near future?

Since I was in the Jury, we couldn’t nominate our shows, but you never know. There is a list of top 250 shows on IMDb of which six are from India. Of those six, five have been created by TVF. The best shows are coming from TVF. So, we do aspire to win an Emmy for India. 

What will be your content slate for 2020?

We have ongoing partnerships with Amazon Prime Video, SonyLIV, MX Player. We have planned a few announcements in January 2020 with a line-up of big shows with OTTs. We will roll out 8-9 shows in the first half of 2020 and the slate for the 2nd half will be even heavier.


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