Anirban Roy Choudhury

"We're as good as the content creators we collaborate with": ZEE5's Nimisha Pandey after deal with TVF

The partnership will include the launch of Originals and, subsequently, new seasons of iconic TVF titles like 'Pitchers' Season 2, 'Tripling' Season 3, 'Humorously Yours' Season 3, on ZEE5 behind the paywall.

It was a time when there was no Netflix or Amazon Prime in India. Television shows were not yet 'woke'. Youth programmes were gradually turning into music videos, playing one after another, or task-based reality shows.

On TV, anything below 100 episodes did not make financial sense for the channels. On digital, anything beyond five minutes meant too much of buffering and too big a hole in the pocket, as data was far more expensive. This was the ecosystem in which The Viral Fever (TVF), a youth-focused content company, was born in 2010.

Going against all odds, Arunabh Kumar, founder and former CEO of TVF, announced a web series titled 'Permanant Roomates', which would stream on YouTube. In 2014-15, 'Permanent Roomates' became one of the most-viewed long-form content on YouTube globally.

Then came 'Pitchers', a show that, according to reports, Kumar, an assistant director to Farah Khan in the Shah Rukh Khan-starrer 'Om Shanti Om', pitched to MTV. The youth and music channel rejected it. The rejection made Kumar launch TVF and later release the show 'TVF Pitchers', a tale of engineers.

The popularity of its shows and the growth of brand integrations in India helped TVF get $10 million in funding from Tiger Global in February 2016.

Then came Netflix and Amazon Prime Video. Traditional broadcasters like Star, Zee Entertainment Enterprises (ZEE), Sony, and Viacom18 too rolled out their video streaming services. Premium dramas became the keyword. It was perceived as a massive shift from web series.

Hundreds of crores were spent on shows like 'Sacred Games', 'Breathe', and 'The Forgotten Army'. Ace Bollywood directors were roped in as 'showrunners' to create these shows that subscribers would binge-watch. Many thought that it was the end of the road for content creators, like TVF, at least on these 'premium' platforms.

TVF, however, continued to deliver one after another blockbusters. In 2018, 'Yeh Meri Family' a show released on TVF Play, was later made available on Netflix and Amazon Prime. Last month (in May), Amazon announced the launch of Amazon Mini, an advertising video on demand service for India within its shopping app, and signed a deal with TVF for its content. Now comes ZEE5's announcement about a collaboration with TVF.

Media behemoth ZEE has announced a content partnership with TVF. The partnership will include the launch of Originals and, subsequently, new seasons of iconic TVF titles on ZEE5 behind the paywall. Existing TVF shows, which are already streaming on many other platforms, will be available on ZEE5 for free.

Popular TVF shows like 'Pitchers' Season 2, 'Tripling' Season 3, 'Humorously Yours' Season 3, 'Engineering Girls' Season 2, and 'The Aam Aadmi Family' Season 4 will be launched on ZEE5. The deal is to establish ZEE5 as a "diverse and inclusive platform," says Nimisha Pandey, head, Hindi Originals, ZEE5 India.

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She feels that TVF, over the years, has made a mark on the youth with its content. "But it is not just the demographic we are taking about, this is actually an entire taste cluster. The content TVF creates is relatable and heart-warming. TVF has beautifully managed to capture not just the on-the-surface youth, but the spirit of youth," says Pandey, whose last job was with Netflix.

While ZEE5 will continue to commission new shows, Pandey informs the platform will also collaborate with the likes of TVF in future to offer a wider range to its viewers. "Every platform is as good as the content creators it collaborates with," she says, adding, "It need not always be a collaboration with a content house like TVF. We are open to collaborations with passionate independent creators too."

"This (TVF-ZEE5 deal) is not a windowing kind of a deal, where the content is available for a limited period," she says. Pandey did not reveal the nature of the deal – like who will own the intellectual property rights of the sequels that would be released on the platform. She did reveal that ZEE5 will commission TVF to create new shows exclusively for it.

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