OTT (over-the-top) is a streaming media service which directly reaches the viewers via internet, bypassing any kind of cable or broadcasting media, or satellite television platforms. Traditionally all contents are distributed through a mechanism, but here that distribution mechanism is absent, and all communications are charged as data. In OTT there is no barrier between the content and audiences as anyone can purchase the service of an OTT platform directly by subscribing to them.
The origin of this concept is similar to DVD. For example, when a particular movie was released directly on DVD format you could purchase that directly in a particular price and watch it on your chosen time and as many times as you want. Netflix was initially a DVD-selling company and then they realised the global potential of the over-the-top concept and gradually converted themselves.
OTT depends on a number of factors: first, you have to develop an infrastructure. You need to have a storage system in the cloud or in the web, enough data speed in a particular area where the content would be broadcasted, enough content for your audience and a payment method if you are a subscription-based video on demand service (SVoD).
There is also advertisement video on demand service (AVoD) like YouTube which is also a kind of OTT where advertisements are placed with the help of algorithms by arranging the content according to the genres, its view or trend. There is also SVoD service in YouTube where you have to pay for watching the content.
The market size of the global OTT business was $121 billion in 2019 and it is projected to reach $1,039 billion by 2027 as the market is growing by 30% annually. This growth is not a very pleasing news for other cable-based or satellite television services.
In the 90s, the main entertainment for people was watching movies in theatres and in VHS tapes. But technology has changed drastically with the emergence of CD and DVD discs, floppy discs, pendrive and internet. The speed of this technological change was so fast that it was hard for people to cope with that.
Watching or telling stories is a basic instinctual drive of human being and our generation has adopted a global habit with these rapid technological changes and a part of that habit is to watch the stories in small screens like television or smartphones.
If we look at our experience keeping in mind that movies came before the television, we will see a gradual change in our digital habits here in Bangladesh. Facebook started its journey in 2004, but in Bangladesh, it gained popularity in 2007. From then on, in a decade, there has been a tech-savvy generation who are directly involved with the global trend and we all fall within this trend. The OTT platform also emerged as a part of this global trend.
The current global OTT market share of Netflix is around 87 percent, which was 87.3 percent in 2019 with Amazon Prime emerging as a big rival. There are now many big global players who are coming to the market soon. The potential of this market is very apparent and this is happening because of the mode of life that technology has provided for people around the globe.
Nowadays, our life is so segmented that we hardly have time or enthusiasm to reach for every particular thing in their respective places. We want them all in our hand via digital medium. In consumer economy, you have to supply your product to the people as they want it. As a result of this demand and its subsequent marketing trend. You can subscribe to any platform sitting on your couch and watch everything there.
Where Bangladesh stands in OTT
In 2019, there were two lakh Netflix subscribers in Bangladesh. The number has surely increased in the last one year. Netflix has been earning a huge amount of money from these subscribers without investing a single penny in the local market.
According to BTRC, in March 2020 there were 103 million internet users in Bangladesh and 95% of them were mobile internet users. There were around 80 lakh users who used ISP for internet. Suppose, people who use mobile internet do not watch OTT contents, the remaining number, which is 80 lakh, are potential subscribers for our OTTs. Among these subscribers, there are around 2-3 lakh people who subscribe to Netflix.
So, these 80 lakh people or suppose one crore people are the potential market for Bangladeshi OTT platforms. If we can get Tk10 from them as subscription fee, the amount would be Tk10 crore per month, or if the subscription fee is Tk100, then we would get Tk100 crore monthly. Hence, there is huge potential here.
Obstacles in the market
We do not have any infrastructural structure for content curation in Bangladesh. To deliver the content to people we need to develop apps and need sufficient skilled workforce which is absent. We have limitation in understanding and creating the right type of apps for the target audiences. Recently, several OTT platforms have emerged in the country like Binge, Bioscope, Chorki and Channel-I is thinking of another app. There was Iflix, a Malaysian investment, which has shut down its business recently probably because of business failure.
However, given the growing market size with the potential to become a market of 10 crore internet users in future who would have the capacity to watch web series with the internet service and device that they use, there is a huge potential for the Bangladeshi OTT platforms. Then they have to create content with the aesthetics, sentiment and morality of these huge local audiences. Netflix will also come to invest here to capture the local market what they have already done in India.
In India, Netflix has invested Rs3,000 crore in 2019-20. That could happen for Bangladesh too but we have not been able to establish that we have a huge market to reach for.
If you want to create quality content, you need good budget which is a problem for us. Someone has to lead in this respect but in our country, it would not be possible for the private investors. The government must come forward because investing Tk1,000 crore is not a big deal for them. The government has to invest here to nurture the local OTT platforms as it had done before for the film industry. We need to capture our OTT market at any cost, otherwise it would be captured by the international market.
But look at Korea or India, they have been able to impose their own culture and tradition in their contents because a content is a kind of branding of a particular society or state as the film industry and cricket are huge global branding for India. But that has not happened for us because we are not creating local contents.
If we want to actualize the possibilities in our OTT market right now, we need a collaboration of different sections of people, not only the directors or producers but the audience also has a big role to play. There must be a circle of different people including audiences who would review the contents in internet platforms, talk about that and thus help improving the quality.
If you look at India, you would see that they are creating many contents in English to capture the international audience. In future, we must look for the global market too. I am very positive about our OTT platforms because I can see the possibilities here. But for that we have to support it like we have once supported cricket.
Our audience also has to change their habit of searching free content. Rather they have to have the mindset to pay for quality content. Piracy is another big problem. If we can take strong action against piracy then people would be interested to invest here without any fear.
The author is lecturer at the department of film and television, Jagannath University