When it comes to global streaming giants, Netflix walks in a league of its own. Although Disney+, Max, Amazon Prime and AppleTV are all producing content that is drawing in millions of viewers, in terms of global presence, Netflix is unmatched.
The company’s annual revenue in 2022 amounted to around $31.6 billion while it has around 238.4 million subscribers at present. In Bangladesh, Netflix had over 200,000 registered users in 2019, according to BTRC and PI Strategy, a private management consulting firm, and generated about $21.6 million in revenues.
Both subscribers and revenue is estimated to have grown exponentially in the last four years, especially since the pandemic saw a surge in new subscribers.
Money aside, the streaming platform has also played a pivotal role in promoting content from diverse cultures and languages — from neighbouring India, South Korea, Japan, Turkey, Germany, Israel and different parts of Latin America — to new audiences in far-flung places around the globe.
In recent times, Netflix original Indian content, primarily in Hindi, has been sharply rising, starting with crime-thriller web-series ‘Sacred Games’ (2018). Netflix recently released Vishal Bhardwaj-directed Bollywood movie ‘Khufiya’, which stars Bangladeshi model turned actress Azmeri Haque Badhon.
What is however striking is that Bangla content, from both Bangladesh and Kolkata, are scantily available on Netflix, let alone Bangla content produced and backed by the streaming site.
Only five movies from Bangladesh have so far made it to Netflix, three of which were directed by Mostofa Sarwar Farooki, titled ‘Television’ (2012), ‘Piprabidya’ (2013) and ‘Doob’ (2017). ‘Komola Rocket’ (2018) directed by Noor Imran Mithu is also on that list and ‘Iti, Tomar Dhaka’ (2018) directed by 11 directors, is the fifth and latest addition of Bangladeshi movies on Netflix, both produced by Impress Telefilm.
It is not as if there is a dearth of Bangla content out there. A number of Bangla shows have gone viral on Kolkata and Dhaka-based OTT platforms like HoiChoi, Bongo, Chorki, Binge, Bioscope, etc., in recent years, but none of them ever made it on Netflix, where such content would have found an avenue to reach a global audience.
Why then is Bangla content not able to break through on Netflix? Or why is Netflix not producing any Bangla content on their own? The Business Standard went out looking for answers. Many from the local industry have been pondering over the same question and have also wondered how they can make it to the platform in the first place.
“There’s no one to represent or introduce Bangladesh to Netflix. We had to avail help from aggregators from India, the United Kingdom and the United States to publish my movies on the site. They first previewed them before granting streaming rights. This process is also not the same for everyone,” said Farooki about the challenges of pitching Bangladeshi movies to Netflix.
“It wasn’t that hard for me but that doesn’t mean it’s the same for others. I haven’t seen any Bangladeshi content on Netflix in recent times,” Farooki added.
Netflix has an office in Mumbai where they employ 54 people. They currently have 6.5 million subscribers and aim to add 100 million users from India in the near future. But they seem uninterested in the Bangladesh market and barely have a presence here beyond the cache servers installed in May 2019 to improve the streaming experience of users.
For releasing ‘Komola Rocket’ and ‘Iti, Tomar Dhaka’ on Netflix, Impress Telefilm sent director, producer and lecturer Abu Shahed Emon of Jagannath University in the Film and Television department as a mediator to Netflix.
Emon stated that the entire process was lengthy and such processes can be demoralising for most producers.
“Onboarding Bangladeshi content on Netflix is very tedious and time-consuming. Communication has to be done exclusively through aggregators, and whether or not a content will make it to Netflix totally depends on the discretion of the Netflix authority,” said Emon.
Despite boasting a growing subscribers base from Bangladesh, the platform most likely considers the native Bangla speaking demographic a mere regional audience.
“Netflix only shows interest in producing regional content when there’s heavy demand for specific local content. Our industry hasn’t yet caught the attention of Netflix to make them interested in producing or promoting our local content,” said Emon.
But there exists another way to promote local content — promotion from the government. Governments around the world set up certain guidelines for OTT or streaming platforms. But those guidelines exist not to control the platforms but to promote a local industry. For example, France has recently stipulated that Netflix invests 25% of the revenue made from France specifically on making French content.
“France has set this guideline in motion even though it is a free market economy. This guideline is also in effect in many parts of the globe. I would like to hope our Ministry of Information will bring this matter into consideration,” informed Farooki.
Netflix did not respond to queries for this article sent to them a week back.
As the presence of technology grows every day, entertainment enthusiasts from Bangladesh are also turning to streaming platforms like the rest of the world. So, it goes without saying that their interests in Netflix will only rise. Cinema industry insiders feel it is time Netflix welcomes more Bangladeshi content on their platform and makes our entry into that space easier.