Representatives of different OTT platforms spoke to Dhaka Tribune in an attempt to comprehend the ground forecast
The OTT platform is now the global “new normal” for the media and entertainment industry. The pandemic propelled the growth of the system which has been in its embryonic stage in Bangladesh. Within a short span of time, a number of platforms have emerged and re-appeared creating an ever-evolving dynamic scenario of OTT in the local market. Bangla holding the 7th position among 100 most spoken languages across the world, the market seems to have the potential to travel beyond borders. In an attempt to comprehend the ground forecast, representatives of different OTT platforms have spoken to Dhaka Tribune.
More for less
It is quite straight-forward. The audiences want more videos, more viral moments and more hours of entertainment. Besides food and shelter, entertainment hit the ‘need’ curve during the pandemic. The homebound hungry audiences are on the rise globally.
With over 4.3 million subscribers and an array of movies, telefilms, drama series, music videos and more, Bongo BD was awarded the Most Popular Streaming Platform in Bangladesh by the CJFB Performance Award last year. In 2020 alone, they licensed and produced 221 hour of content for their platform. They also offer the largest Bangla entertainment library. Chief Content Officer of Bongo, Mushfiqur Rahman informs that they made their entire entertainment library on Bongobd.com free for all users in Bangladesh to help people stay entertained while in self-quarantine and isolation.
Bioscope too demonstrated their social responsibility during the primary months of corona. Their live TV and the paid contents were made free for its users not only to help them keep up with breaking news but also to remain entertained during the stressful time. They experienced record growth in usage and data consumption.
Launching in May last year Binge brought a whole range of technology to cover users from different walks of life. From small screen, big screens to android approved devices that offer HD channels, Binge network cover it all. Ahmed Armaan Siddiqui, Director, Red.Digital believes the opportunity is immense. “OTT as a fraternity will evolve, and our vision is to be the leaders of the Bangla linguistics zone. With a whole range of talented creators, we would want to go international.”
Self and the other
Perhaps one of the most basic theories of human consciousness and identity is the binary of self and other. The existence of an ‘other’, allows the possibility or recognition of self. For the netizens, there are a myriad of streaming platforms to choose from. Playing strongly in the Bangla content market are Indian subscription-based streaming services such as Hoichoi, Zee5, Addatimes, Eros Now and other possibilities in the pipeline. Needless to say their presence is a sign that Bangladesh is a high priority market. Country Head of Hoichoi, Sakib R Khan sheds light on the production value of the content. “We are in a stage of adaptation from all areas–ecosystems, platforms, audiences and direction. We are adapting the system much like any other shift of systems in the past. I believe 2021 will be significant for breaking and making of the overall infrastructure of the country. The OTT market is not outside the system,” he explained. With a variety of yearly, monthly to even weekly subscription plans Hoichoi sticks to quality of their production over quantity. “There has been an abnormal growth of audience during the pandemic but we need to foresee the future. More than excitement it is a responsibility. People believe in us with their time and money. We need to be conscious about what we are making. Quality is the key and we shall not compromise in it,” he added.
The centripetal force
Aside from consumers of YouTube, users of most OTT platforms center on the capital. With the biggest nationwide reach, Bioscope experiences major traction from Dhaka. However, it has already started to spread among the people in other major cities and towns. With the current rate; the numbers are expected to go up. “In terms of awareness, Dhaka is more OTT savvy compared to the other cities and that is one of our ambitions to make Bioscope synonymous with the nationwide OTT streaming platform”, said Fardeen Ameen, Bioscope Content Engagement Lead. With a blend of content, Bioscope has also signed a deal with Impress telefilms offering their entire telefilm catalogue available to its users.
The new platform 'Chorki' is almost ready to be launched to the entertainment arena of the country. Redoan Rony, filmmaker and CEO of Chorki believes that an audience hub is present in the country. Giving examples of consumers who pay to consume premium contents from international platforms, he is hopeful about the market of premium contents. “Our audiences were accustomed to consume almost free contents; however there is a wind of change. A hub of audience with an appetite for premium contents is growing. If we can nurture it with proper content, device and payment gateway, we will be able to gain better traction from our audience,” Rony commented. Chorki promised 12 originals in 12 months to their audience. “Our audience would already know what they will get a new original every month. That sets us apart from other OTTs so far,” Rony added. With best talents in the market and a well curated library, they hope to provide quality contents to their audiences.
Tamjid Atul, Director Marketing of Live Technologies, creator of Cinematic on a different note believes audiences will find their ways. He said: “Our plots are set in urban, suburban, and rural locations and everything that falls in between. We have received unprecedented response from the audience for the last two originals. Both of them were based on true stories. We are hopeful our future experimentations.”
Unanimously all representatives agreed that the biggest challenge for OTT business is piracy. However, freeloading is a problem with digital content worldwide.
Ahmed Armaan Siddiqui mentions: “In the competition perspective, with businesses that follow advertisement based video models in the field, it is a challenge to create an audience who would actually pay to watch contents. It again comes down to quality contents in order to sustain and we must also penetrate the international market as soon as possible.”
Fardeen Ameen with similar thoughts mentioned: “Creating subscribers is one of the biggest challenges for any OTT platform. From our end, along with originals we are also hopeful that the library contents will prove to be attractive to the users.”
Policy and strategy
The journey of OTT in the country began with controversies. A postmortem of the incidents indicate a number of causes. Apart from illegal cut piece release of contents online, Rony believes timing is also a big factor. “The creative process will always be subjective. The multiplicity of interpretation cannot be controlled. Publishing of contents needs to be strategized. As far as policy is concerned, my urge would be that any decision taken would be towards the goal of a healthy development of a system.”
“The policies and regulations are yet to be decided for OTT platforms in Bangladesh. We shall respect the culture and sensitivity of the country. Our content already reflects that intention in terms of subject matter, scene or dialogues. Since the platform is still in its initial stage, it will go through its due trial and error period,” Sakib R Khan says.
Many wonder if OTT should be subjected to censorship or certification. Self-censorship also a concept most of the stakeholders consider as a way to maintain quality of any production.
“Policy should not symbolize hindrance but a sense of regulation through which the benefit is shared and a field of equity is established. Since it’s a new vertical, we must use our learning curves to minimize the errors. We would want user retention for which a flow of content is needed,” Mushfiqur Rahman stated.
According to Ahmed Armaan Siddiqui: “Throughout the time we have had our learning and I believe we all understand each other’s intentions now. For the audience, since they are exposed to global contents, they know what they want. Policies and regulations should not become obstacle for artistic interventions.”
The demand for content in regional languages is growing exponentially. Concept of regional language however is of less significance, although the question of regional identity could come into play. With linguistic excellence in Bangla literature, music, theater and cinematic traditions, adding these to their storytelling creators perhaps can give Bangladesh a unique visage in the global arena. With some silver lining productions that attracted the audience they await for the newer and greater experience of the OTT. Although the potentiality of the market is based on the money it would generate, the sustainability will grossly depend on the quality of the productions. With an open market the competition is not contained within borders but beyond with giants dwelling in the business for long. The local platforms will be at stake if the general “substandard and mediocre” tag for Bengali industry is not broken.