By Jahnavi Patwardhan. Posted on May 22, 2015
Internet is in! This isn't really news anymore. Video consumption online is up. Amongst the youth, internet (especially Youtube) has become the preferred choice of video consumption over TV. This is not surprising given that entertainment channels on TV have forsaken the young viewer for the older female demographic. The only content that is targeted towards the youth is on movie & sports channels.
Rising internet penetration and proliferation of torrent sites has given the young Indians access to the best shows from around the world. And they are downloading these shows by the GB's. Torrent sites rank in the top 10 most visited sites in India.
Indian creators on platforms like Youtube have stepped in to take advantage of this opportunity. Last couple of years have seen many online-only content creators and stand-up comedians create spoofy viral videos as well as social message laden content. Social networks like Facebook & Twitter serve as distribution channels for these videos. Content creators like TVF have grown immensely popular and now have over a million subscribers on their YouTube channels.
In what seems like a logical progression, TVF launched a web-series last year called Permanent Roommates. The 5 episode series got more than 6 mn views on YouTube. The series was an interesting innovation that established the viability of online-only series. Sponsored by a brand (Commonfloor.com) that was smartly built into the plot, the series told the story of a couple and their struggle finding a place to rent in Mumbai.
Web series are not exactly a new concept. The Spot, or thespot.com, was the first episodic online story, and the first website to integrate photos, videos and what later became known as blogs into the story line. Some successful and innovative web series have come up over the past years and they seem to have hit the mark. The Program is a dark quirky comedy about a support group for debtors while Long Story Short is a series of 3 minute long episodes about college student doing everyday things with a funny neurotic narration of his thoughts. These series have gained popularity, found loyal audiences and created a niche for themselves while at it. In addition there is also the very ambitious and expensive the Video Game High School, created by Freddie Wong is an action/comedy series about surviving high school, fitting in, and landing that perfect head shot.
After The Viral Fever launched their series, many others have swung into action. TVF's second series called 'Pitchers', is slated to air next month.
We decided to get some insights and a perspective about creating a web series in India and actually making it work. Here is a brief interview with Biswapati Sarkar (of the Arnub fame) from TVF who had some interesting inputs on the phenomena.
Your web-series 'Permanent Roommates' is possibly the first Indian web-series that has garnered the kind of attention it has. Do you think it is an idea whose time has come?
'Time has come' sounds like something a bunch of super villains would say in an underground lair, just before pressing a giant red button. Our entire team is definitely delighted with the kind of response 'Permanent Roommates' has generated, but it would be arrogant to presume that our time has come. The times have always belonged to good content. And with internet, it has been possible for creators all around the world to reach out to bigger audiences. Yes, technology has changed the world.
But, the basics of visual storytelling still remain the same. And creators who can manage to do that irrespective of the medium, have garnered attention. So, apart from the medium being easily accessible to people, nothing has really changed. The fundamentals of good script, good acting, good direction and editing are still intact. If we somehow don't get these right the next time, people will move away from us.
In your view what are the ingredients for a successful web-series? What genres and themes do you think work the best with Indian audiences?
Comedy has always been the audience favourite, across the globe. But, drama is always the most essential ingredient to drive any story. Like, I answered in the previous question, the basic ingredients which would work for a TV series or a film, would apply for a web-series as well. For instance, likable characters, relatable themes and situations, interesting conflicts and contemporary dialogues would make a great screenplay.
What have you learnt from Permanent Roommates and how will Pitchers and your future series be different therefore?
No knowledge of Permanent Roommates can be applied directly to Pitchers, I feel. They are both different stories. Permanent Roommates was about a couple in a long-distance relationship struggling to make it work when they start living together. Pitchers is about 4 guys who quit their well-payed corporate jobs in order to start their own company. We just hope to make it with the same dedication and enthusiasm, maybe more, and hope people like 'Pitchers' as well.
Young audiences are moving away from traditional media and are increasingly finding their entertainment online. Barring a few shows on MTV and Channel V, there are no fiction shows targeted towards the youth on TV. Why do you think that is?
Not even MTV or Channel V. As a part of our live events, we keep meeting thousands of college kids across the country. And the last Indian fiction TV memory they have is as old as 'Sarabhai vs Sarabhai'. That's more than 10 years ago. Why would somebody want to watch a badly-written quickly-shot daily episode of an Indian TV show, when you can watch an entire season of 'Game of Thrones' or 'The Big Bang Theory' or 'True Detective' for free? And once you are hooked to such shows, you will never come back to mediocre Indian content. We are a generation raised on Friends and Seinfeld. 'Tarak Mehta' will never have the same appeal to us, even though the characters are supposedly closer-home. Indian TV has turned into a factory which produces episodes of a show every single weekday. And no matter how good you are, you cannot write or edit a brilliant half-an-hour episode every single day. The quality is bound to suffer. And the sad part is, nobody on TV really cares about that anymore.
Given your popularity and fan base, one would imagine that you don't have to worry about marketing your shows. Could you talk a bit about the marketing strategy for TVF, especially with regard to your web series? (Answer by Sohail Khan, Marketing head at TVF)
We had already gotten the audience into the habit of appointment viewing by releasing videos every Wednesday. Hence, getting the audience on the channel and making them come back to watch the subsequent episodes was not an issue.
Regarding the marketing, TVF has always been a 100% organic marketing company. All of our marketing was pure Word of mouth and we thank or audience to make the series, globally the most watched branded Web series in the world.
There have been quite a few learnings from Permanent Roommates. We realized that creating dedicated social media handles for the series makes sense as people want to know more about the shows and their characters in general because of which, for our next series Pitchers, we already have dedicated Facebook and Twitter (@tvfpitchers) handles on which conversations have already started.
There must be a lot of interest from brands to tie in their brand into your shows. Refusing brands won't be easy. How do you manage that?
We cry a lot. About 3 times a day, 6 days a week.
Taking your example, there are others who are moving into the space as well. We might see a flurry of web-series in the coming months. What is your take on competition?
There is no competition online. We are never fighting for the same primetime slot. If some other guys develop a web-series which is quite good, people would want to watch more of such stuff and would eventually land up at our shows. Of course, from the audience perspective, there is a comparison between the quality of content of one show to another. That is something beyond our control. We can just put our heads down and work really hard, and hope people really enjoy what we are making.
Web series are an exciting prospect for new filmmakers and could be an excellent form of getting an audience base that are moving over to internet for stable, consistent entertainment. If this read has inspired you to take the step to go ahead and make a web series, Reelseo has compiled some helpful tips to follow to take that step.