Chief Executive Officer of Samuh, Nyema Zam talks to Kuensel Editor Tshering Palden about the company’s challenges and successes as it turns one today
On July 23, Samuh turns one year old. What are some of the good things you remember?
It’s been a year since we launched our OTT platform both on websites and mobile apps. And the best thing is when I share this with people they tell me that they feel Samuh has been around for a long time. For a one-year-old platform, it means that we have been able to build a strong and well-known brand. From getting shocked looks from people when I told them I am from Samuh (Cloud in Dzongkha) to people now saying ‘I am on Samuh’, we have come a long way.
How much has Samuh changed in the past 12 months in terms of
projects, employment and viewership?
The growth has been phenomenal. The Samuh family has grown to 90000 registered users across 107 countries clocking in an average of 500K weekly views on the platform. In terms of projects, we have produced 140 original content so far. Our content production model is designed to be industry intensive and that has played a critical role in creating a diverse range of content and given us an opportunity to engage over 600 people in the creative sector in our projects so far. We have also started working with singers, musicians and music studios in creating original music and that has resulted in increasing engagement of young people in the music industry. In terms of the in-house team, our team has grown to 27 regular staff and 12 contract team. We have a very young and dynamic team under the average age of 24.
Being a new startup in this industry, what were some of the challenges you faced along the way?
As a pioneer in the market, the challenges were many. The biggest challenge was the high cost of the internet and the lack of digital payment gateways that support the OTT model. The other challenge was finding good screenwriters, actors and directors. This meant we had to spend additional time, effort and resources in developing the creative eco-system. The other challenge was also low levels of IP and copyright awareness among the Bhutanese users. However, I do feel the challenges have also helped us to grow stronger, and smarter and adopt innovative approaches to content creation, problem-solving and resource management.
Let’s talk about the big award. Why do you think Gangnam Girls won it?
The UK Asian Film Festival’s best debut feature film award for Gangnam Girls was totally unexpected. We were thrilled to know our film was selected as a closing film of the prestigious film festival. So the award literally took us over the moon. Personally, I felt the film won the award because firstly the film revolved around friendship which is a universal theme and audiences were able to relate themselves to the characters in the films. Secondly, the director of the film Charmi balanced art and commercial filmmaking beautifully and thirdly it was the honest portrayal of stories and life which is often not seen in most commercial films, that seemed to connect with most audiences.
Netflix is losing subscribers by millions. How do you see the
future for Samuh?
Netflix was a pioneer when it introduced a digital streaming service in 2007 in the United States. Since then the company has grown into a global brand and its success has been replicated by many companies around the world. With many global players in the OTT space targeting the same markets, Netflix after holding the number one spot for over 15 years has probably finally reached its peak. Hereafter, it would be all about subscriber retention and reducing the churn rate.
For Samuh, we have just begun. We have another 5 years or more before we reach the peak in the Bhutanese market. Given our first mover advantage, current growth rate, our growing content catalogue, and the growing Bhutanese 4G and Internet market size we are confident that Samuh and the Bhutanese creative sector are going to see over 200 percent growth rate within the next three years.
Some critics say there is a lack of Bhutanese tradition and culture in the online/ entertainment content these days. What do you say?
The so-called critics could be judging the content based on one or two titles and not taking into account the entire content library. At Samuh, one of the guiding principles of content creation is that our content must promote Bhutanese stories, culture, values and language while entertaining and appealing to a broad section of the audience. We produce a wide range of content with different audience segments in mind.
Bhutanese children are growing up, watching foreign content now easily accessible on YouTube and various foreign television channels. The evident outcome of this is that even three-year-old kids can speak fluent English while they struggle with Dzongkha. Hence, we place great importance on creating local content that will gradually encourage our children who are hooked to foreign content to watch Bhutanese content. We believe this is critical because our films and stories are an integral part of our cultural narrative. To this end, we have been investing a lot in creating kid’s content, which is made in our national language. Our programming for kids is strategically designed to encourage children to learn about our culture, values, language, and folk stories, among others.
Another audience segment we cater to is the youth segment who never watched local content because they did not find it appealing to their taste. This audience segment was hooked to Korean and other foreign content. For them, our effort is to provide a Bhutanese alternative that appeals to this generation. And this has been critical in getting young Bhutanese to watch their first local series and films. In a country that’s bombarded with over 70 foreign channels on TV and access to millions of foreign content online, getting them to begin watching local films and series is the first step to promoting our language, culture and traditions.
Anything else you would like to add?
As we celebrate our first anniversary, we reflect on our journey which hasn’t been easy but it has been very very fulfilling. And we have so much to be thankful for. Samuh as the pioneer and the premiere OTT platform in the country today could never have achieved so much in our first year of launch without the blessings we have received from His Majesty The King and Her Majesty The Gyaltsuen. We are also grateful to the government for introducing the National Credit guarantee scheme and our finance partner Bank of Bhutan.
We remain forever indebted to our users from across the world for their love and support for Bhutanese content. We would also like to thank our production partners and collaborators for believing in Samuh, trusting our gruelling and demanding content development process and giving their all to bring our content ideas to life.
And lastly to everyone who is pursuing a dream in the creative space, never give up. The creative space has just started to grow in Bhutan and you will be able to find your place in it, as long as you are passionate and hardworking.