The members of the Association of Television Channel Owners in a recent meeting with the information minister have pressed their demand for banning video content such as news and talk shows on online news portals. This is a very significant piece of news for the media at large in Bangladesh. The video content in the online environment has made them worried, as they feel a crisis, a crisis of losing audience to those online portals.
Now, if there are 25 TV channels in Bangladesh, not every channel runs its own online news and video portal. Only a handful of them have their own news portals for catering the needs of the audience who consume online content. Prominent among them are Channel i and NTV who have various kinds of video contents. Some others also have online portals, but they aren’t rich enough on producing video content.
Five years ago, I was working for a very popular TV channel. At the same time, I also had my own online news portal. I had always appealed to the owner of the channel for investing some money in its online portal because I could see that TV media would start changing rapidly with the spread of the internet which is the vehicle of online environment. The writing on the wall was there. Now that they have started changing, the TV channels owners have gotten worried. They have also started losing business.
Now, if you look at the online portals such as Bangla Tribune, Sarabangla, Techshohor etc., they are regularly offering talk shows and entertainment shows and getting a very good response from their audience. I certainly agree that the TV channel owners do have an element to get angry about the surge of audience on online video content. However, this wasn’t new to them; they have surely seen it coming and didn’t do anything to transform themselves.
It’s worthwhile to mention that there’s a rumour that eminent movie maker Steven Spielberg wanted a ban on Netflix movies from the Oscars. Although he has denied it, saying that he didn’t demand such a thing, but the message has gone around. Now, why would the traditional cinema world would try to prevent companies like Netflix? Because, Netflix has played the role of a disruptor in the entertainment business; it has transformed movies to an individual medium from and a mass medium.
Then we see how Amazon and Disney have also started their live content streaming. Disney is going directly to the customers. Netflix had spent $10 million in 2018, released 80 new films and the premier of astonishing 700 TV shows. On the other hand, top six movie studios together had released only 75 films in 2017. Now, who would compete with Netflix? Who’d make more money than Netflix?
Let’s look at how Bangladeshi newspapers are trying to grab the market. They know that the traditional print versions would lose the market to a great extent and almost all of them now are giving more efforts to their online versions; they also have video content on their websites.
The English newspapers have launched their Bangla site and the Bangla newspapers have launched English sites, because they know they have to grab the audience. The Daily Star now has a Bangla version and Prothom Alo has an English version. Many have followed their footsteps. Now, why are they doing it? Because the market is changing with the habit of the audience. Very soon, these newspapers are likely to start offering more video content. What if The Daily Start starts live talk shows? With its reputation, it would be the most successful talk show! What would our TV channels do then?
Haven’t the local TV channels watched CNN, BBC and Al-Jazeera? Alongside traditional screen contents, they all have been developing audio and video content for online. They have started presenting customised content that the audience would want to consume at their free will. The days of Fixed Point Charts have long gone. The audience now doesn’t wait for anyone to deliver content at their will; they now want to consume at their free will and time. These TV channels also have streaming on YouTube for both for the traditional audience and for those who are seeking customised content.
Netflix doesn’t run on advertisement, but it has successfully entered the gadgets of millions of audience. What has enabled them to create these disruptions in the media market? Internet, of course!
When our local TV channels got a chance for using the internet, they were only doing live on traditional TV with the help of the internet. They certainly had failed to see the future of video content. Therefore, it’s evident now that the huge market share will be gained by the ones who has seen the future and huge market share would be lost by those couldn’t see.
Despite having worked in two TV channels in my career, I myself have lost my urge to watch traditional TV a long time ago. I am not watching less television, but I am certainly watching it on different screens. I and we can feel that our TV industry is passing through a crisis; this crisis may end up in fatality unless they discover new business models and new ways to keep the audience with them. The market will not wait for you.
Ekram Kabir is a storyteller. His works can be found on ekramkabir.com.