Gone are the days when the relevance of digital streaming platforms in a country like Bangladesh was a matter of speculation. Over the last few years, the popularity of digital streaming platforms has increased to such an extent that now, the only question worth mulling over is how we – as digital service providers – can facilitate the mass adoption of such platforms by making them more accessible to people from all strata of the society. The issue deserves our attention as it is one of the key indicators of the extent to which we have succeeded in ensuring digital inclusion in the society.
A few statistical findings will further elucidate the current status of digital streaming platforms in Bangladesh. According to the Internet Service Providers Association of Bangladesh, the bandwidth used for such platforms accounts for approximately 40 percent of the total bandwidth consumed in the country. Furthermore, the number of users of these services increased by 11 percent from 2016 to 2018 – according to a survey conducted by Kantar, an international media research agency. The numbers are more convincing when we look at the way streaming platforms have been used. In 2010, only two percent of Bangladesh's internet users used digital streaming platforms.
Such findings give us a clear idea about the growing popularity of digital streaming platforms, but we do not necessarily need to look at statistics to understand that these platforms are gradually becoming the preferred means of content consumption. Due to the convenience such platforms provide for users, they are not only popular among the younger generations, but also preferred by elderly people willing to embrace a digital mode of life. We no longer have to sit in front of a TV set and wait for our favourite programs to air. Thanks to the advent of the latest streaming technologies, we can enjoy them anytime, anywhere, via our smartphones.
As I mentioned, the popularity of digital streaming platforms is undoubtedly on the rise. However, is it growing as fast as we are expecting? Can we take measures to further popularise them by addressing the key issues that are barring individuals from adopting such services? In this regard, it is necessary to remember that digital streaming platforms are used not only for viewing or listening to entertainment content. Users' demands for content on a wide range of subjects – such as education, health, travel, fashion, and business – have been increasing as well. For this reason, ensuring people's access to such platforms surely means offering them a more enabling digital lifestyle.
The biggest barrier to the adoption of streaming platforms is obviously the low level of smartphone penetration in the country. Currently, the smartphone penetration rate is around 38 percent which suggests that the vast majority of the population has yet to have access to digital services – including streaming platforms. For this reason, unless we ensure that people from different economic classes can purchase smartphones at affordable prices, we cannot expect a commendable rise in the smartphone penetration rate in the near future. When it comes to making smartphones more affordable for the masses, the government can play a significant role by reconsidering the decision to increase taxes on imported smartphones. While the local smartphone manufacturers undoubtedly deserve government support in the initial phase, we cannot ignore that unless they manufacture sufficient units of quality smartphones to meet the current demand, the high tax on imported ones are likely to impede overall smartphone penetration in the country.
Ensuring that there is authentic and quality content on streaming platforms is important as well. After all, users will visit streaming platforms frequently only if they regularly find high-quality authentic content on them. However, unfortunately, piracy poses a big threat to our endeavours in this regard. Although there is anti-piracy legislation called The Copyright Act, 2000 (amended in 2005) in place to curb piracy, we have not seen it properly implemented over the years. Owing to unchecked piracy, content that is supposed to be available only on authentic streaming platforms can be found on inauthentic open platforms as well. This malicious practice is seriously affecting our efforts by allowing pirates to leak copyright-protected content. Users also suffer because of this practice, as in most cases, the visual quality of the leaked content is poor.
A proper revision of intellectual property laws has also become necessary for streaming service providers. Introduced a long time ago, the laws cannot address many issues that have recently arisen. Such issues often create disputes among different parties over content ownership. As a result, streaming service providers cannot upload much quality content on their platforms despite their willingness to make it available for users.
In order to cater to the demands of streaming service users, many local and foreign digital service providers have already launched their streaming platforms in the country. At Banglalink, we launched a number of new platforms to provide our customers with a wide array of quality content. Customers can access a plethora of video content through Toffee and Banglaflix, while Vibe and Game On give them quality music and sports streaming experiences, respectively.
The number of streaming services will surely continue to increase over time, but the arrival of new streaming services itself is unlikely to bring significant changes if the aforementioned issues are not addressed properly. Therefore, the future of streaming platforms in the country will mostly depend on the collaborative endeavours of service providers and government authorities.
Ankit Sureka is the Corporate Communications Senior Manager of Banglalink Digital Communications Limited