Some may know him as the endearing yet bossy Yogi Bhaiya from TVF Pitchers while others look up to him as an IIT alumni who has inspired millions by changing the face of online video programming by founding The Viral Fever. Know him however you want but you have to agree that Arunabh Kumar is a force to be reckoned with.
Not only has Arunabh in just 6 years, managed to create the biggest youth entertainment brand in the country called TVF but he has also through channels matured content been able to add a class to the comedy content being served in the country.
In an exclusive interview with What’s Up Life, Arunabh talks about the challenges he faced while establishing TVF, rejection from brands like MTV and Channel V and the story of creating the ultimate youth brand in the country.
Your company The Viral Fever is credited with revolutionizing the world of content and comedy through online programming in India. How did you get the idea of creating a TVF and what were the challenges you faced?
The actual inception of TVF happened when I realized that even though all of us love watching TV shows, there is rarely any Indian TV shows that we are watching. I was already creating a lot of content for brands before I started TVF hence I thought of starting a production house. With this naïve and purist desire, I went to MTV, Channel V and Bindaas as these were the only 3 channels that allegedly catered to youth entertainment.
But even though they loved my concepts they had very old people to execute it and they had their own ways and means of going with the execution. Had I allowed and agreed to their ways, it would have totally destroyed the show. I had created a flowchart of how moving DSLR cameras will help in saving time, money and space- the three resources that are indispensable for any shoot or production but they rejected that idea completely. So when people have disregard for things that are quantifiable then you know that it won’t work out.
This is when I thought I had to try things my own way and so I decided to use the IIT brain that I have. I knew I had the internet which will give me the potential to reach people without paying anything, so I ended up creating a website called the Viral Fever and we used Youtube as a player as it was the only player that would function nicely with the bad connectivity India has.
We started with a simple spoof video called the ROWDIES, launched in on 21st Feb 2012 and it ended up being the first original content that went viral in the country which was 10 times more than what we expected. That was a very important validation as had that not happened TVF wouldn’t have been what it is today. As the video reached 1.1 million people in a week, it gave me the confidence to make another video as I knew 1.1 million people who would watch my video if I made one again. Of course, we had zero budget, zero marketing but people started sharing our content and the popularity grew organically. Then slowly we created more content like Gaana wala song, Gangs of Social Media and all of them became very popular instantly.
I have a theory that the first time is luck, the second time is coincidence but third is a pattern so when our third video went viral I knew we were doing something right. Overall our ambition was to become a Youth Entertainment network that MTV could never be in this country and that’s the gap we have been trying to fill and to the most extent have been successful in doing.
No vision is ever fulfilled without the support of a dream team and yours is already a sensation across the country. How did you find this amazing team for TVF?
Finding a team happens organically. This is the 9th year I have been working and 6th year of TVF, as a result of which I meet a lot of nice people and I genuinely take pleasure in meeting them. I fervently believe that like-minded people should come together and do something special. What we ensure at TVF is that anyone who works with TVF should do their best work with TVF and truly we have managed to do just that. I think when you have this constructive intent then good people tend to stick around with you. Also, we have a very brutal feedback system and our culture is very strong; TVF will go on even if I die tomorrow as our company and work is not dependent on one person. We have grown from 1 person to 150 and are still delivering as good work as we did 4 years back so there is something we have gotten right.
It has happened to the biggest minds then when you start something innovative you are already predicted to fail without any reasons. Did that happen to you and how did you power through that initial struggle phases?
I had a flourishing career in corporate films and branded content before TVF. If I had not made these videos I would have had two more flats but then I always envisioned creating something that would be worth giving up 10 flats for. I still remember that I made a spoof called JHA.2 (Jhatu) which was a spoof of Ra.one and I had almost become bankrupt producing that. Till one and a half years, our channel made no money so I constantly used to have these moments of doubt that am I doing right?
But then again the matter of the fact was that I enjoyed making these videos which is the reason I was able to power through that phase. We used to have a lot of fun shooting together and the YouTube comments used to be the most prized possessions for us. It was the satisfaction that I got from them which became my biggest strength.
One of your shows TVF Pitchers changed the lives of so many people who finally decided to go after their dreams. How was the idea of creating a Drama show like Pitchers conceived as it was so different from the normal videos you were creating?
Almost 200 hundred people quit their jobs after watching Pitchers and I am scared that if they don’t succeed they are all going blame me for that (Laughs). Indeed, many people feel that we switched to from humor from drama for Pitchers or even Permanent Roommates for that matter but frankly speaking when I had pitched a TV show to MTV in the beginning itself I had pitched in for a drama series. We are focused on Youth and anything that appeals to the youth excites us. We are more relevant for brands today than MTV and in fact brands come to us today before they come to because we want to share with our audiences all sorts of stories. We do more original content than MTV and we are bigger than them in any way.
Is there a plan to venture into the LIVE events space as well on the cards?
We are not comedians but good humorous storytellers at the max. All other YouTube channels and performers that you see today were comedians first and then started creating video content but we are not comedians and hence have not ventured much into that space. There is a college show that we do call TVF night out but that is restricted to colleges. And in the past, we have done closed shows for fortune 40 under 40 but in that also we have put up a very classy show. We might go LIVE events direction too but we are not focused on that at the moment as our comedy is of the satirical and humorous kind, one which cannot be looked down upon from anyway.