Business of Comedy
by Chandan Kulkarni; December-2015; Money-Wise
The Indian Film and Television Industry have largely been dominated by studios and production houses. Big production houses like Yash Raj Films and others have always had the resources to produce films with extensive foreign locales, A-list stars, and best of production equipment. These studios have deep pockets to release films in all over the country and even overseas.
There was virtually zero or non-existent startups in media and film production. Towards 2009-2010 a new wave of entertainment emerged. The format, termed as “web series”, was pioneered in India by The Viral Fever (TVF). The five-year-old online-only collective already has two successful web series – Permanent Roommates and Pitchers – under their belt.
YouTube, the online video platform emerged as the favoured destination to present content for consumption on laptops and smartphones. AIB , TVF (The Viral Fever) and others have had immensely successful shows on YouTube.
The best part is there is no need for celebs. YouTube has the power to make YouTuber’s into celebrities, and that’s the route to go. Truly content is the king!!
Pitchers has become a cult of sorts with lines like “Tu Beer hai” and these are growing references of how India is changing and the fact that our aspirations are growing by leaps and bounds. Pitchers stands out is in its intellect. It’s very intelligent yet never comes off as pretentious. Probably one of the reasons why each episode of TVF’s Pitchers has more than a million views is because the Indian audience has been craving for a show like this, one that takes its viewers seriously. The show has also been ranked in IMDB’s Top 250 TV list at rank 50.
“Mainstream TV channels have forgotten what the youth want to see…their content is stale and unappealing, We have revolutionized the market and want to be the Disney or HBO of this space” says Arunabh Kumar – CEO and founder, The Viral Fever Media Labs.
Arunabh is not the Chief Executive Officer of TVF Media Labs. Yes, you read that right; there is no position of Chief Executive Officer at TVF Media Labs. The CEO in his title means Creative Experiment Officer. The Viral Fever, with its rib-tickling content, showed that there are always takers for alternate streams of content and television is not the only medium which would survive when it comes to video.
Comedy, once a lightly regarded form of entertainment, is now becoming a serious source of business, a shift exemplified by TVF and more recently All India Bakchod (AIB), a three-year collective that has taken the offline and online world by storm. While the internet has played a central role in the explosion of their popularity, the rise of comedy as a means of communication has enabled them to look beyond their staple fare to build a more meaty business.
All India Bakchod‘s YouTube channel has over 1.2 million subscribers and has received over 103 million views (as of July 2015, including the Roast videos which were made private). The Tipping point for AIB was video with Alia Bhatt – Genius of the Year. Alia really changed the attitude that Bollywood had about the Internet, to look at the Internet as something that they can capitalize on. The Alia video was also the first time that a celebrity took over on the Internet so head on. There was a massive surge in Facebook and YouTube numbers with that video. After the Roast, there was another massive surge in the number of new people who came to the channel.The business model on YouTube is non-existent. There’s an advertiser model, but the ratio of revenues to views is just so very low, a million views may give some hundred thousand bucks’ subscription model like a Netflix (paid streaming service popular in US) is not going to work because the Indian market is still very nascent. The solution lies in the sponsor model or the partner model. Permanent Roommates has Commonfloor.com as the sponsor wherein the back drops of the story is lovers trying to find an apartment to rent in Mumbai.
TVF has worked with Freecharge (an online recharge venture recently acquired by Snapdeal) to launch Emotional Atya-Charge, which also had over a million people logging onto YouTube.
TVF’s five-episode long web series Permanent Roommates received over 6 million views, while its spoof on the Times Now show Frankly Speaking with Arnab Goswami called Barely Speaking with Arnub has received over 7.5 million views (and just 3 episodes have been released so far). On the other hand, AIB’s insult comedy show AIB Knockout (which has since been taken down and faced a lot of legal heat) had notched up a cumulative 4 million views within two days of its YouTube debut, of which the first million came within 12 hours. It eventually received over 7 million views before being taken down.
It’s fair to say that both AIB and TVF are now media networks in their own right.
It also needs to be pointed out that the choice of YouTube as the medium of exhibition has played a crucial role. Independent video content creators depend heavily on word-of-mouth publicity, as marketing resources are meager to say the least. The social nature of YouTube makes it possible for videos to go viral, which isn’t possible with a medium like television. Plus, high TV ad rates are a huge barrier.
However, there is a danger in this extreme dependency on YouTube as well: The recent YouTube ban on the use of graphical title cards, which includes the use of sponsor logos and product branding in videos, unless the sponsor pays Google to advertise on a particular channel, is a case in point. This move will affect multi-channel networks, but independent creators such as AIB and TVF are likely to be hit much harder, as their advertisers will now have to pay Google a cut directly for the use of their logos in video overlays.
It’s also not clear how this ban on ad slates will impact branded shows, like Ask AIB which is a Q&A show by All India Bakchod sponsored by AskMe or TVF’s Permanent Roommate which is sponsored by CommonFloor.com. Thus far, YouTube took at 45% cut on every ad played on its platform, but it didn’t get any cut from embedded ad slates.
Alternatives: Since, none of the other major online video distribution platforms like Netflix among others have any presence in India, the likes of AIB and TVF are still dependent on YouTube for the time being. Interestingly, AIB and TVF have taken two distinct steps to diversify. AIB has opted for the Only Much Louder model of taking online popularity offline through the AIB Knockout show. While TVF has opted to launch a movie streaming service called TVF Inbox Office, which incidentally will primarily be competing with YouTube Rentals.