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Bangla, a billion-dollar market for OTT platforms

Kolkata-based OTT platform HoiChoi, HoiChoi, Shree Venkatesh Films Entertainment Limited, Zee5, Amazon Prime, Netflix, Disney Hotstar

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Bangla, a billion-dollar market for OTT platforms

Since February 2019, Kolkata-based OTT platform HoiChoi started releasing Bangla contents made by mainly drama directors in Bangladesh, which had helped the platform in getting over 30 thousand subscribers just within the span of 10 months. But, the number of subscribers should have been hundreds of thousands, if not millions, in a country like Bangladesh with a population of 180 million, where over 40 million people are enjoying internet access. One of the key obstacles for HoiChoi in getting larger number of subscribers is because of payment system, as the subscribers in Bangladesh need to use international credit cards for buying HoiChoi subscription. Later, HoiChoi Technologies Bangladesh Limited began receiving subscription in local currency, which had solved the main obstacle for the subscribers in subscribing to the platform. It is not yet clear as to how HoiChoi Technologies Bangladesh Limited has been remitting the collected subscription amount to HoiChoi in Kolkata, India.

According to HoiChoi Technologies Bangladesh Limited, using any sort of digital transaction method, people can subscribe to Hoichoi for BDT 499 (US$6) with a year-long validity.

According to media circle, HoiChoi has its office at Concord Royal Court, Plot 40, Level 5, Dhanmondi, Dhaka, while it is represented in Bangladesh by a company named HoiChoi Technologies Bangladesh Limited, which has its office at Basati Condominium, Flat 3-4, House 15, Road 17, Banani, Dhaka. Sakib R Khan is serving as the ‘Country Head’ of HoiChoi Bangladesh.

Hoichoi started its journey in September 2017 as a sister-concern of Kolkata’s film production house – Shree Venkatesh Films Entertainment Limited, which also is known as SVF. Focusing on entertainment, they have been uploading various video content and applications since then.

Commenting on HoiChoi’s operations in Bangladesh, Sakib R Khan told reporters, “Hoichoi aims to spread entertainment in Bengali language throughout Bengali speaking people all over the world. A separate office has been set up here to abide by the rules and regulations of the government of Bangladesh. We are working on collaborating with Bangladeshi producers and directors to create suitable content for the country”.

Back in 2019, HoiChoi uploaded two contents from Bangladesh, namely ‘Dhaka Metro’ directed by Amitabh Reza Chowdhury and ‘Honey Money’. Recently this Kolkata-based platform is showing ‘Mohanagar’ along side many other contents from Bangladesh.

But there is pessimism within the large production houses in Bangladesh in investing in contents for HoiChoi, mainly because HoiChoi Technologies Bangladesh Limited is yet to attain reputation as a strong media house in the country. Secondly, majority of the leading production companies in Bangladesh are even unaware of the existence of any office of HoiChoi or its affiliates in Dhaka city or elsewhere.

Meanwhile, Mumbai-based Zee5 has also started buying contents from Bangladesh through its local vendor in Dhaka. But the quality of the contents from Bangladesh which have already been released on Zee5 is greatly discouraging. First of all, none of the contents meet the 4k picture quality, while the web-films or web-series from Bangladesh, which have been released on Zee5 resemble the TV dramas and serials. Critics say, if Zee5 will not immediately correct itself from showing such poor-quality contents, it will ultimately lose the subscribers in Bangladesh.

Commenting on reason behind such frustrating quality of Zee5 contents from Bangladesh, media insiders say, the main reason is budget. Zee5 is offering budget of TV drama or TV serial for web-film and web-series. No maker can provide OTT quality contents if they are offered extremely low prices.

Second reason is, none of the large production houses in Bangladesh are showing interest in supplying contents to either Zee5 or HoiChoi because the local vendors or agents of these OTT platforms are merely people from the media circuit.

Seeking anonymity, an official with a large production company told this correspondent, “Those representatives of Zee5 or HoiChoi are mostly contacting drama or filmmakers with the offer of making contents for them. Then those directors are approaching large production houses like us seeking fund for implementing the project. Meaning, Zee5 and HoiChoi, instead of directly approaching the production houses are unnecessarily creating too many layers in the entire process. For this reason, none of the real production companies are showing interest in investment money in producing contents for these platforms. We think, they already are on the wrong track and pretty soon, they will face tremendous difficulties in getting contents from Bangladesh”.

He said, “A number of international OTT platforms already are corresponding with large production houses in Dhaka. Once we start working with those platforms, Zee5 or HoiChoi will hardly get any quality content. In plain words, these OTT platforms need to invest money or at least provide bank guarantee against the price of the contents they are buying, in case they want to make the payment, say after 90-180 days. Unless there is guarantee of investment, only fools will run after those platforms and finally lose money”.

Any international OTT platform willing to grab a major share in the market of over 270 million Bangla-speaking population in Bangladesh and India should first of all formulate a strategy. They need to find a right collaboration partner in Bangladesh. Otherwise, they will fall into the trap of confusion, doubts and ultimate failure.

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Ronju Sarkar is a Staff Correspondent of Blitz

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