Technology sometimes feels like a distant memory. For example, Bangladesh's national television channel, BTV, started broadcasting in full colour in 1980. The technicolour screen captured the awe of the audience and propelled people's foray into a new era of entertainment.
But the 80's was a different time for Bangladesh. Emerged from the independence war in 1971, the country was fighting a new battle - to reform the economy, build infrastructure and ensure economic stability that would power the country's astonishing future growth.
Much has changed since then. Bangladesh today is considered a role model in many economic benchmarks. The country's position as the second largest readymade garment (RMG) exporter in the world has helped itself establish the "Made in Bangladesh" mark as a proud badge of resilience and transformation. It now boasts a per capita income of USD 1,751 supported by a steady economic growth. With this promising track record, Bangladesh is poised to become a middle income country by 2024.
Moving up the economic ladder, Bangladesh has also experienced an impressive growth of its middle class. According to a study conducted by Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies (BIDS), Bangladesh's share of the middle class in total population rose from 7.0 per cent to 35 per cent in only two decades. With more disposable income in their hands, the middle income class is more likely to spend substantially on shopping, travelling and entertainment.
And in this digital age, where instant gratification is the service norm, on-demand entertainment has the potential to be the next big thing in Bangladesh. Be it for music or video, digital entertainment streaming services like Netflix, Spotify, Amazon Prime, Apple Music, Hulu, etc. are reshaping the entertainment industry. Global consumer spending on audio and video streaming services in 2018 is projected to reach USD 19.5 billion, a 35 per cent increase from the level in 2017.
Internet has changed the way people communicate and do things but it seems people have also changed their taste as to how they use internet. According to a recent report, on a global scale, 58 per cent of internet use is attributed to video streaming. With millions of potential consumers waiting to be explored and entertained, Bangladeshi businesses must take notice of this wave of change.
Bangladesh has a lot up its sleeve to nurture the growth of digital entertainment service. A young population certainly will help. With the country's population median age being 27, there is the scope to attract a wide range of audience who are ready to experience new modes of entertainment.
Digital entertainment is synonymous with mobile devices. Today, Bangladesh's Internet penetration stands at 49 per cent. Of them, 46 per cent now have access to mobile internet. These are the people who can adapt to new technologies and already have the experience of using internet-based apps like bkash, Uber, Pathao, etc. This primed segment can also be taken as the consumers, financially and psychologically, ready to pay for their digital entertainment.
Urbanisation will play a vital role in facilitating the growth of the industry. According to a research done by an international bank, Dhaka is set to become one of the world's top 10 biggest cities in the world by 2030 with a population of 27.4 million. A growing city demands better infrastructure and even better entertainment-readily available whenever they want. Currently 36 per cent of the country's population live in urban areas, making them the ideal consumers for entertainment business.
The epic growth of digital entertainment is evident in our nearby markets too. Southeast Asia's digital economy is among the fastest growing in the world. There is also a staggering growth of consumers subscribing to video streaming services.
Even our next-door neighbour, India, has seen a massive growth in media streaming services. The country had 160 million digital video viewers in 2016. Buoyed by factors like cheaper internet services and developing infrastructure, the market is only expected to grow bigger.
The good news is Bangladeshi businesses have already embraced this opportunity and are setting strong platforms to invite consumers to make media streaming a part of their lifestyle. Local Streaming services like Bioscope, iFlix, Bongo, etc. are gaining momentum.
What has been a boon to the local players is they don't have to spend much on educating these consumers about streaming services. Netflix, which started its operation in 2016, is already a household name among the urban middle income group.
Businesses looking to capitalise on this outlook do not need to look far to find an assuring sign. "Video" and "Song" were among the top three Google search keywords for Bangladesh in 2017. Clearly consumers are waiting to be amused and turned into loyal subscribers.
Like other markets in the region, media streaming services need to focus on quality contents to have an edge over other services. Original contents should be the key priority for market players. Even for global industry pioneers, the key focus has been to produce new, exclusive materials. For example, Netflix will have 85 per cent of its new spending going towards new contents. As the streaming giant expands in new countries, these original contents will be the key to survival.
Like any other digital services, success is heavily dependent on how fast the players can move. The more exclusive rights the businesses can secure on programming and artists, the more they will have the opportunity to create a loyal consumer base. Local players must remember that Bangladesh's appetite for global services is already getting the right kind of attention from the international players. For Bangladeshi businesses, quality content in Bangla language would make all the difference.
Amidst all the positivity, we need to also think of the challenges and limitations. Bangladesh's mobile internet, one of the key growth drivers of video streaming services, still ranks among world's slowest mobile internet connections. As businesses start to influence consumer taste, they also need to put deeper focus on building the infrastructure. Maybe the most important lesson the players need to learn is: today's consumers have access to multiple options. So, quality, not quantity, of contents has to be the piece de resistance for service providers.
Entertainment is truly universal. With local consumers becoming more aware of the global shifts in technology, disruption has become a favourite keyword in business playbook. While businesses get ready to take on the digital entertainment, consumers are also on the lookout, with screens in their hands, for the next "Uber" for entertainment.
Saifur Rahman is Senior Manager for Brand, Communications and Marketing at the City Bank Limited.
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