Pandemic has been an interesting dichotomy for the content industry: Arunabh Kumar

The Viral Fever’s (TVF) founder and web series director Arunabh Kumar is on a high after their series ‘Panchayat’ walked away with four awards at the inaugural edition of Flyx Filmfare OTT Awards 2020, which was held recently. ‘Panchayat’ had received no less than seven nominations.

Meanwhile, the slice of life drama ‘Gullak’, which is produced by TVF, has returned for its second season on SonyLiv.

In conversation with Adgully, Arunabh Kumar, Founder and Director, The Viral Fever, speaks about the production schedule during the lockdown and post-lockdown period, TVF’s comic book venture, YouTube becoming a war zone for viewers and much more.

How was your production schedule during and post the lockdown?

The lockdown presented all kinds of uncertainties on production schedules, not just for us, but for any studio which attempted to get back to work. Post the lockdown, when the Government started the unlock process and allowed shootings to resume, the core team sat down with me and we went over all the projects that we had in pipeline and planned them keeping the health of the cast and crew as priority. We started with projects in partnership with SonyLiv and Amazon Prime Video along with one with P&G, because they were very supportive in helping us plan the schedules keeping the safety measures in mind. 

How challenging was the year 2020 for you?

2020 has been a trying year for the whole world, so I think that’s a leveler for all of us. But especially, for the content industry it presented a weird paradox of sorts because our show ‘Panchayat’, which launched on Amazon Prime Video, ended up being one of the most watched show in 2020. People started repeat viewing the show in pandemic because it’s a perfect family show which anyone can watch with their family. So much so, that it had ended up being the second highest rated show in India. So, the content consumption has increased, but on the flip side, content creation is a profession which just can’t happen in work from home mode. 

With the halt of shootings and brand spends going down, the year did become challenging for us. But, as they say that times of crisis helps you to re-examine your business and we did the same. We planned a new strategy for the company, but continued with the core essence of TVF, which is to tell great stories with our partners – OTT and Brands. We also brought Vijay Koshy back to TVF as President, since he had built the whole brand partnership at TVF and is now here to take the company ahead on a new strategy.

Please tell us about your comic book venture. It is such a different path from your role at TVF. Will we ever see the two ventures coming together?

Indusverse Comics is a separate venture that I started with two friends, Alok and Saumin, who are experts in the field of comic books and animation. It’s something that I’ve wanted to do since childhood and was fortunate to realise the dream with our first edition of comic books getting launched in 2020. I am serving full time as a CEO on Indusverse as it’s a new company which needs more of my time. The three books on three different characters are – The Beginning, Stunt and Outrage, and all three books have been getting good reviews. The comic books are aimed at the 13-to-34-year old age group and the stories are very contemporary. We won four awards at India’s biggest comic book awards by Comic Con. Right now, there is no partnership between TVF and Indusverse as they are two separate businesses and entities for two totally different formats of storytelling. 

How has the overall entertainment industry been impacted by the COVID-19 disruption?

Like I mentioned above, the pandemic has been a very interesting dichotomy for the content industry as the demand has increased due to people in lockdown wanting to consume more, but the supply suffered as shoots stopped. The freelance workforce would have faced tougher time due to the work stalling. However, gradually as shoots have started happening, we can see a surge in execution, which will lead to an overall positive impact. The OTT partners and brands are back and we have already finished some shoots with OTT partners, while we have released a few shows with brands like Whisper and Dominos. Another one with Hyundai is about to release. 

With newer OTT players and YouTubers entering the game, what is your
game plan to make sure TVF stand out from the competition?

More OTT players only mean more partners for us to tell the kind of stories that we want to create. TVF today is one of the biggest suppliers of premium content at scale with the top OTT platforms of the country like Amazon Prime Video, SonyLiv, MX Player, Netflix and more. And, we are not their competitors. We are also proud to have become a partner with AHA, India’s first Telugu centric OTT platform, where our show ‘Permanent Roommates’ has been remade for the Telugu audience. We have been a part of the making and I’m happy to say that it has been doing very well. We are very happy to have as many partners in the market as possible. 

As far as the YouTubers are concerned, again, if you look at the genesis of TVF and our motto of ‘Lights...Camera... Experiment’, then you will see that we have been in the business of premium storytelling, whereas YouTubers are individual creators and influencers. Some of them are individually bigger than the biggest brands. They are a different breed and in fact, we would love to collaborate with few of them who like our work and want to pursue premium content after having tried their hand at user-generated content. TVF - Bachelors where we had BB (Bhuvan Bam) as the lead actor is one of many such examples. For us, both the OTT Players as well as YouTubers are partners and not competitors and with more and more of them, it only gives TVF more scope of trying to tell different stories. 

YouTube became a war zone for several banters, be it Carry Minati vs the
TikToker’s or viewers making ‘Sadak 2’ the most disliked video, what is your
observation on the same?

Social media and all open content platforms like YouTube and TikTok (now banned in India) have become tools for everyone to express themselves and when it comes to expressing, we can’t expect people to just express good things that they like, but also things someone out there might not agree with. I feel that it’s the new normal and most of us have to just expect that there will be things which will invite strong conversations from various people on these large platforms. We would need to just be more sensitive to such phenomenon. 

What kind of growth are you targeting in 2021?

The plan for Indusverse comics is to hope that we have Comic Con in 2021 as we really missed it last year. This has helped us get more time for the next set of our comic books. We have decided that since we skipped in 2020, we plan to come with six comic books in 2021, and not just three like our first edition. 

As for TVF, we have always been trying to create more and more stories for as many OTT partners and brands as possible. In 2019-2020, we released 12 shows across different platforms. And, in 2020-2021, the intention is to release 15 shows for all our platform partners along with three regional shows and four to five shows with brand partners. We are also singing some deals with new OTT partners, who we have never worked before but are very excited with their plans as they are giving us an opportunity to tell some amazing stories. Internally, we are very clear that the pandemic is still very much out there and there could be some unpredictable events in the future for which the management needs to be ready. We would like to support all the employees and colleagues of TVF and encourage them to keep doing the good work while not compromising even one bit of their health.


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