*In conversation with Navidul Huq, co-founder of popular web content platform BongoBD
How has Bongo evolved since its establishment? The market for streaming content has grown in the western world quite a bit, but here it’s still in the teething phase. What has your experience been like?
Initially, when we came up with the idea for Bongo in May 2013, our goal was to take Bangladeshi content and have a service for Bangladeshis living in America and Europe. As we enter 2019, the initial idea has evolved into content viewing for both NRBs and Bangladeshis. Millions of people are watching our content in Bangladesh. To be honest, we didn’t anticipate that our content would reach such a vast populous of viewers in 2013 when we started.
Do you have any kind of research done that shows the growth of your platform in the last 6 years? What’s with the audience growth over the years?
Our growth has been phenomenal, in the last quarter of 2018 we crossed the magical milestone of 1 billion views. Our content is on our website, also on Youtube and other services abroad that we operate in Nepal, Sri Lanka, Middle East. Our business has gone onto an international level. We have taken Bangladeshi content abroad. We have done the same model with Nepalese content, and Sri Lankan content.
In Nepal and Sri Lanka contents are available. Are these Nepalese and Sri Lankan content?
Yes, our focus is always on local content. We are doing very well in Nepal. We started in NepalFlix last year. We started in Sri Lanka in 2016. It is interesting how different the markets are when you compare Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Nepal. In Nepal, the industry standard is publishing movies on YouTube, while there is less focus on video apps. In Sri Lanka, it is the other way around! But regardless of where we publish, we find that content is king. And our local content is getting a very good response. Our sports content is doing really well in Nepal and movies are extremely popular. In that respect, markets in Bangladesh, India, Nepal, and Sri Lanka are similar.
What happened to the idea of showing Bangladeshi content to the diaspora community? Was the purpose being served as you initially envisioned?
Yes, the purpose has been served. We are doing a lot of business in the Middle East. We are working with Middle East telcos. In the Gulf region, Oman and Qatar, Dubai, Abu Dhabi – Bangladeshi people there are being able to view our content. We have a Bangla entertainment pack to which Bangladeshis can subscribe to for contents on their phone.
When it comes to content, you were initially showing films and then you eventually got into creating your content, what inspired you to make that move, and how has it been so far?
Initially, we were catering only licensing content, so there were movies, tv shows from tv channels or different movie directors and producers. We have moved into producing our own content. The main reason being is that the contents that conventional content makers are making are still not ready for the web or smart devices in terms of length, how its made, how it’s shot. since we know the online space so well, we decided to pioneer our own content. We also have a vast talent pool we are guiding in terms of which content works best for the web. Being an online platform, we know exactly the age and demography of our audiences. Seeing what the demand is online we are commissioning a lot of content too.
Are you using some kind of software or any particular algorithm that you follow to understand the demand for a particular type of content?
The thing about Bongo is that it not just a media company. We are an IT company, we build our solutions ourselves. Everything we use, our apps, our website, the engine that runs Bongo is made by us. It’s our own proprietary technology that we use to run Bongo and that has a lot of capabilities to do audience measurement, to understand and see. We are very involved with analytics. We analyze audiences viewing pattern. It helps us to do better service and make contents.
Following your footsteps, there are several other platforms coming up. Would you like to tell us about the challenges of launching a digital platform like this? What has been the challenges so far? How did you go about it?
The biggest challenge was the Bangladesh internet. Internet in Bangladesh is evolving, our speed is developing, the way we access the internet is developing. With internet developing, we are developing our services too. Initially, we brought video software solution from abroad, but it did not work for us, the Bangladesh internet and market. It’s a learning process, and we are happy that we are well ahead. We are always there to guide other companies that are trying. Some of our competitors have already changed their business; some could not survive. Healthy competitions are always welcome. It’s how we can become better as service providers.
You’ve allowed upcoming artists to share their content on the platform. There are content creators and publishers, can you tell us how these dynamics work?
We are the largest supporter of content creators online. Around 130 upcoming artists have signed up with us; who are doing all sorts of things. There are actors, singers, dancers, some are cooking, makeup tutorial videos, etc. We always look out for these talents. We’ve had many sessions all across Sylhet, Chittagong, and Dhaka where we’ve invited young people to guide them on how to better showcase their talents online. We signed them up and helped them earn online through their content and share a small percentage of that with us. We give them access to our studio, equipment. We help them edit their videos, promote their videos. There is support for upcoming artists.
What has been the response from already established artists, who are already producing for TV?
The traditional boundaries between TV, film and online are becoming blurred. You see a lot of content with famous TV actors being released only on digital. At the same time, upcoming talent, who honed their skills on YouTube are now moving into TV series and natok.
There were certain contents on Bongo that were controversial? Was it done intentionally to stir the pot, to gauge reactions? Was it an experimental effort to test audience psychology?
It wasn’t put up to drum up controversy. It was accidental. Sometimes it is hard to gauge what the reactions will be online. In the case of online contents, people have the opportunity to tell you that it’s an unwanted content. But if it’s on tv, people have no choice but to watch it with no immediate feedback. Online allows immediate feedback, so the experience between the one who uploads the content and watches the content allows for viewers to say whether the content is controversial or unwanted. Right after getting feedback, we have to know how to handle the content – sometimes we edit the content. The relationship that we have with our viewers allows us to take immediate action towards catering to their feelings and wants.
Bongo is still free for everyone. Are there any plans for monthly subscriptions for premium contents?
Bongo is working with Grameenphone on their platform Bioscope. We have already started a premium package where when users subscribe, they get a certain amount of data free from Grameenphone. The response has been overwhelming. People aren’t out there for just free content, they are willing to pay for content. On BongoBD.com it is still free, but since we can see there is a market for premium content we might also include pay for premium content. Our international portals in the Middle East, Nepal, Malaysia are not free but paid subscription services meaning users pay a daily or monthly fee to watch our content.
Would you like to give us an idea on the revenue stream of Bongo? Is there collaboration with advertisers and sponsors? How is it earning money?
We do collaborations with telcos, with other advertisers and sponsors. Another form of revenue generation is monetization of our content on the content from for youtube.
Did Bongo receive any sort of funding from outside?
Yes. We have raised funding from investors abroad.
Are you looking forward to bigger funding? How important is international funding for scaling your venture?
It is very important because our business depends on how we invest in technology and content. Technology and content is going to bring in the users. Some users will pay, some will watch an ad to view the content, and some will watch it for free. To attract these users we have to invest in technology and content. We have an international team of very skilled IT personnel to keep on developing this technology for a better viewing experience to our users. To do that we have to keep investing and raising funds and continuing to grow.
Where do you see Bongo five years from now?
We want to be the content company for any and all content for Bangladesh, or for the other diaspora communities we cater to. We want to be the number one company for all the screens, doesn’t matter which kind of platform they are watching on. Be it delivering the content, the technology behind it, somehow or the other we want to touch every diaspora community abroad and in the local markets.