Chhimi Dema

With cinema halls closed for more than a year, the two over-the-top platforms (OTTP)–Songyala and Samuh, give individuals in the entertainment industry a platform to exercise their creativity.

The OTTPs also aim to develop local media content for children with Dzongkha as a medium. Both the platforms launched this year.

An over-the-top media service is offered directly to viewers through OTTP via the internet as opposed to the traditional means of a cable or satellite provider. Examples of OTTP include Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Hulu, and HBO Now.

The OTTPs offer viewers local content such as movies, series, music and educational videos through their platforms.

Chief Executive Director of Songyala, Sonam Ugyen, said that Songyala was developed to provide a platform for local media content. “Except for BBS and local channels, people don’t have options to access local media content.”

He said that there were talented Bhutanese content creators in the market, it was just that the film industry hasn’t been able to tap their skills and talents.

The rise of OTTP is the new normal in the world of entertainment.

Sonam Ugyen said that the pandemic gave impetus to the introduction of the OTTP in the country.

“I had the idea of focusing on creating digital content for children,” he said, adding that the initial idea expanded to the creation of Songyala after he heard about films that were awaiting to be screened.

He added: “We ventured into the business at the right time if not late.”

A challenge, Sonam Ugyen said, was the film producers’ reluctance to share their works on the platform on a cost-sharing model. “A producer might have the opportunity to earn more through the platform but some expect upfront payment.”

If there is easier payment accessibility without compromising the security through the payment gateway, people would be more forthcoming to subscribe to the OTTPs, he said.

This would not only benefit the viewers but individuals in the e-commerce sector, he added.

Samuh has received more than 20,000 subscribers from 65 countries after its launch last month.

Samuh’s Creative Director Kinley Tshering said that the response from people was overwhelming. “The idea of the platform is to launch young talents and present varied genres of local media content.”

He said that the trend in the film industry was making films that sold commercially, and much emphasis was not given on going beyond because of the cost involved. “OTTP expands the horizon for people to be creative.”

Development of children’s content is another objective that Samuh is working on.

Kinley Tshering said that there was no digital content for children in Dzongkha and many children from a young age first learn English before they can speak their mother tongue or Dzongkha.

Expensive internet cost, limitations with the payment gateway, lack of experts in post-production works, and non-existence of production sets were challenges, Kinley Tshering said, that the OTTPs in the country face.

He said that people raised concerns that streaming online would allow others to screen record. “But the platform has a system called Digital Rights Management (DRM) to address piracy issues.”

DRM is a system that uses encryption to protect video content, specialised techniques to securely store and deliver the encryption or decryption keys, and allows the content publisher to set business rules and control who can consume their content.

Edited by Tshering Palden