It is not the private TV channel the government pledged

Cable television users will have access to video-on-demand (VOD) or channel-on-demand called local channel Samuh soon.

Coinciding with the silver jubilee anniversary of the introduction of internet and television in Bhutan, Samuh Mediatech Private Limited, in partnership with NetCom Bhutan Limited, will launch the country’s first digital platform – video-on-demand (VOD) or on-demand local channel Samuh on cable television on June 2.

VOD is a media distribution system that allows users to access videos, television shows, and films without a traditional video playback device and a typical static broadcasting schedule. With this VOD channel, Bhutan will now have a total of 60 TV channels, including 56 foreign channels.

Samuh, as a digital service provider in Bhutan and globally, will provide local content like videos, drama series, television shows, and films through Netcom Bhutan. “We want to leverage both digital and traditional media so that we cater services for both TV audiences and digital users,” the founder and Chief Executive Officer of Samuh, Nyema Zam, said. “Samuh will also provide space for content creators like young people, especially in music shows.”

However, according to the Chief Executive Officer of NetCom Bhutan Limited, Jigme Dorji, Samuh cannot go live streaming like Bhutan Broadcasting Service’s (BBS) TV programme. “Samuh is allowed to provide only pre-recorded content,” he said. NetCom Bhutan proposed and sought approval from Bhutan InfoComm and Media Authority (BICMA), a converged regulatory body for ICT and Media in Bhutan, following the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Samuh to provide value-added services to the customers in March this year.

“We are collaborating with Samuh because the company has adequate local content to cater to the needs of the people, who are connected with cable TV,” Jigme Dorji said.

Nyema Zam said that Samuh’s digital TV signal, which is connected with fiber-optic cable at its office premises in Zilukha, Thimphu, will be shared with NetCom control room in IT Park, Serbithang, which will then distribute it to the local cable operators (LCOs) across the country.

LCOs will then distribute it to cable TV subscribers with a monthly charge of Nu 75 in addition to the existing entertainment charge of Nu 300 per month.

According to officials from NetCom and Samuh, TV subscribers need not have to buy cable set-top box (STB) to avail Samuh services. The current STB will work to avail Samuh on TV, provided that a customer has a cable TV connection, meaning it will not work in DTH/Tata SKY/ Dish TV. Nyema Zam said that Bhutanese viewers will be able to experience Samuh services for free during the launch of the VOD. “Following that, users will have to contact their LCOs for the services,” she said.

Officials from BICMA confirmed that NetCom Bhutan has entered into an agreement with Samuh to provide Samuh content via the cable television network as VOD services, which is yet to be implemented. As per the multi-service operator (MSO) license terms and conditions, the MSOs are allowed to provide VOD services through their network. “However, this arrangement is purely for VOD services and not as a private television channel,” one official said.

The ruling government during its campaign promised to license a private television channel to promote diversity and plurality in broadcast news and entertainment programs.


Why Samuh for VOD?

Samuh is the first Over-The-Top (OTT) platform in the country and has become a popular source of entertainment for many Bhutanese living within and outside the country since the pandemic, as access to films and locally produced series was easier. Samuh started providing service in July 2021.

While touring and gathering feedback from people in 20 dzongkhags, Samuh officials claimed that people liked their services, but could not afford the cost of the internet, according to Nyema Zam. “People suggested if  Samuh could provide service through cable TV without having to pay for internet,” she said.

Samuh then started exploring the feasibility of providing such service to reach audiences nationwide and took two and a half years to work on building content with local filmmakers and content creators. “We started to discuss with NetCom Bhutan to initiate VOD,” the Samuh CEO said.


For transparency 

Some OTT platforms welcomed BICMA’s decision to allow Samuh to break new grounds and create avenues to compete in the era of the digital market. “We have to move forward rather than relying only on BBS for local content,” one OTT platform representative said.

However, he questioned the procedure of allowing Samuh without  floating an open tender. “For transparency’s sake, all stakeholders should be on board and be given equal opportunities,” he said.

NetCom’s CEO Jigme Dorji said that NetCom is ready to connect with other OTT platforms provided that they have enough local content and are approved by the regulatory body.

NetCom Bhutan Limited is one of the MSOs and IT-enabled service organizations providing digital cable TV signals to the LCOs in Bhutan. The MSO procures TV channels from broadcasters within and outside the country, and the signals of the TV channels are digitally processed in its headend and distributed to the LCOs via the P2P bandwidth service (fiber route) of Bhutan Telecom Ltd.


Contributed by

Rinzin Wangchuk