Over-the-top content platforms, such as the US-based Netflix or Indian Hoichoi, have changed the concept of entertainment. With them, the power of a programme producer or a television channel has gone to viewers to decide what to watch and when.
In this changing visual media landscape, TV audiences have already been inclining towards more personalised time of amusement. A lack of original contents, planning and budget only have worsened the situation for TV channels.
Meanwhile, new OTT platforms are appearing to grab a share of the emerging market, with an initial investment of as much as Tk200 crore in each venture.
Streaming services launched in the last two years include Hoichoi, Addatimes, ZEE5, Cinematic and Eros Now, subscriptions of which can be easily purchased through mobile banking.
These platforms are gaining popularity. Moreover, more and more Bangladeshis are subscribing to international streaming service Netflix, according to local service providers.
Indian Addatimes and Eros Now began their journeys in Bangladesh in the middle of the pandemic last year, supported by LBC Media Entertainment Company Ltd.
LBC Head of Marketing Nusrat Jarin said the number of subscribers increased manifold in the last four months. "From the beginning, we realised that Bangladeshis want to watch good contents. That prompted us to embark on producing three contents with local celebrities."
Actors Tariq Anam Khan, Sadia Islam Mou and Aparna Ghose have already signed deals to work on the projects.
Sakib R Khan, Bangladesh marketing lead of Hoichoi, also acknowledged that viewers of the streaming services had been rising.
"We strived to offer new, original contents even amid the Covid-19 pandemic. There were instances when celebrities shot videos at home. These are the reasons why OTT platforms are increasingly becoming means of entertainment," he said.
Referring to Hoichoi's popular web series "Taqdeer", Sakib said one single show led to the highest jump in the number of subscribers in Bangladesh in recent times.
Such contents will draw a huge number of audiences, which is why quality of contents has been prioritised, he added.
A local venture, Cinematic started its operation three years ago but got attention of people after the platform began streaming web films "Janowar" and "Trol" early this year.
Director of the organisation Md Tamjid Atul said quality local content was what it was looking to produce.
Amid a rising popularity of such services, three more platforms will be launched this year.
In each venture, about Tk200 crore has to be invested mostly for production and promotion, said a number of people overseeing operations of OTT platforms. They did not want to be named.
Ibne Hasan Khan, director and marketing head of a yet-to-be-launched service initiated by Impress Telefilm Limited and Channel i, said an OTT venture required a big budget – "Our investment is no less than Tk100 crore."
Streaming services or TV productions?
Television channels are gradually losing their audiences to these streaming services.
Most of the country's 22 entertainment channels do not produce their own video contents. Instead, they sell programme slots to agencies and producers who make money through agreements with sponsors and advertisers. Therefore, the channels have little control over what they broadcast, industry insiders say.
And the limited contents that TV channels produce are of low quality, people in the sector said, putting the blame on low budgets.
But Ibne Hasan of Impress Telefilm Ltd disagrees. He said only a few directors were working regularly, and those, who were complaining about budget inadequacy, seldom brought out new productions.
"I think budget is not a matter of concern for a good piece of work," he said.
Those who work for TV said the channels paid Tk1.5 lakh for a TV drama on average whereas the budget used to be Tk5-6 lakh a few years back. In most cases, they continue their round-the-clock service selling time slots.
Nagorik TV's Programme Head Kamruzzaman Babu said the TV industry lacked planning. "Cheap contents are competing against contents that have been produced keeping viewers in mind."
Arifur Rahman, programme head of Maasranga Television, however, said TVs still had its audience, and they would have a separate path to flourish.
TV productions were slashed by 70% last year because of Covid-19, said Saju Muntasir, general secretary of the Television Programme Producers Association of Bangladesh.
And whatever were produced were not up to the mark, he said.
In a 2019 seminar, actors of the small screen blamed TV channels for the deterioration of quality of television dramas and serials.
Apart from budget, a lack of policy, channels' failure to demonstrate creativity and infringements of middlemen were mentioned as the main factors playing in the background.
But some still hold on to the hope that TV's good, old days will return. Streaming services will expand too, they say.