The story of the birth of The Viral Fever (TVF), one of India’s only two independently owned YouTube channels with over a million subscribers, is stuff of legend amongst content creators today. When TVF’s founder and CEO, Arunabh Kumar’s, original TV series pitch to MTV India went south, Kumar put out a spoof on YouTube, called ‘Rowdies’, a piss take on MTV’s biggest show, Roadies, that went on to amass 3.5 million views (and counting).
That was three years ago, and YouTube in India was used primarily by broadcast and film studios to put out trailers, songs and the odd TV content. When ‘Rowdies’ went viral, it gave birth to a whole new medium of pop culture in India – YouTube. As the video content-streaming site celebrates its 10th year anniversary, it’s amassed 60 million unique subscribers in India (as per comScore), and is today, arguably, the prime source of entertainment consumption amongst the youth in India.
In an Interview with Forbes Magazine in March, Head of Content & Operations of YouTube India, Satyanarayan Raghavan said that within the last two years, India’s climbed up to be in the top five content countries for YouTube globally. And a whole lot of it has to do with original content creators like TVF and All India Bakchod (AIB), as much as it has to do with youth channels like MTV India and Channel [V] struggling to stay relevant with tried-and-tested, ‘safe’ content.
Where the internet wins over TV, and even movies, is that there is no fear of censorship on it. Content creators can write biting satire and push boundaries in terms of genres, ideas, formats and even lingo (All India ‘Bakchod’ and Bollywood ‘Gandu’ are two of the most popular YouTube channels). So it’s not a surprise that the list of the top 10 videos on YouTube India in 2014 included ‘Bollywood Aam Aadmi Party’, a TVF satire on politics, ‘Ali Bhatt – Genius of the Year’, an AIB satire on Bollywood. These are themes that you’d be surprised to see being made fun of by archaic broadcast networks.
What has also certainly helped is the rise of content-sharing websites like Buzzfeed and Scoopwhoop, that make discoverability of good and ‘viral’ content much easier. Today, brands are grappling to be associated with AIB, TVF and other comedy groups like SnG Comedy and EIC, as well as individual talent like Kanan Gill and Aditi Mittal. eCommerce portal SnapDeal tied up with AIB for an undisclosed amount, while rumour has it that online real estate site CommonFloor paid almost a Crore to TVF for its original fiction series, Permanent Roommates, which has amassed around 7.5 million views over 5 episodes.
If the sold-out YouTube fan fest this year that saw thousands of screaming teenage fans go nuts over YouTube stars like Gill and Indo-Canadian Superwoman, is anything to go by, edgy comedy has broken the Indian internet and it may just be too late for youth TV to play catch up.
Disclaimer: I’m the Associate Producer of the Y-Films series, Man’s World and Bang Baaja Baaraat and hence, they are not mentioned in the piece (conflict of interest!)
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Note: This piece first appeared in The Juice in the November 2015 issue. An edited version of the story can be found here: http://www.jabong.com/juicestyle/magazine/web-series/
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