Bhutan’s Growing OTT Culture Faces Hurdles in Pursuit of Sustainability

In the midst of the global pandemic, Bhutanese citizens turned to Over-The-Top (OTT) platforms for their entertainment needs, providing a welcome respite during challenging times. However, the burgeoning OTT culture in Bhutan faces a myriad of challenges, threatening its sustainability and growth.

The pioneering Samuh, Bhutan’s first OTT platform, encountered a recent setback when its services were disrupted due to the migration of servers from a third-party provider in Singapore. CEO Nyema Zam highlighted the unique challenges faced by Bhutanese OTT platforms, notably the reliance on multiple third-party service providers within and outside the country.

While Samuh operates with a robust infrastructure and utilizes over 150 Content Delivery Network (CDN) servers worldwide, challenges arise within Bhutan itself. A major hurdle involves the absence of a unified platform for payment gateways and OTP verification. Zam explained that OTT platforms must integrate with multiple service providers within the country, adding complexity and hindering seamless operations.

Further complicating matters, Bhutan lacks reliable international payment gateways, forcing platforms like Samuh to rely on Google Pay and Apple Pay, which charge commissions of up to 30 percent per transaction. The limited capacity of corporate credit cards in Bhutan compounds the issue, with a maximum limit of USD 5,000 annually, posing a significant financial challenge for recurring payments.

Moreover, the high cost and suboptimal quality of internet services in cities beyond Thimphu, Paro, and Punakha present a significant barrier to digital streaming services within the country. Recognizing this, Samuh is actively exploring partnerships with Multi-Service Operators to offer on-demand or subscription-based local channel services nationwide, aiming to cater to customers irrespective of internet costs or speed limitations.

Shangreela, another prominent OTT platform, echoes Samuh’s challenges, particularly in payment systems and international gateway integration. The Chief Technical Officer (CTO) emphasized the difficulties faced by customers abroad who encounter obstacles in completing payments due to the inability to send One-Time Passwords (OTPs) to international mobile numbers.

Addressing these challenges, the CTO proposed improvements in the integration of local payment gateways with international systems, emphasizing the need to enable OTPs for international numbers. Additionally, enhancing digital literacy among potential customers is crucial to overcoming barriers to entry.

As Bhutan’s OTT platforms navigate these challenges, their commitment to innovation and adaptation remains steadfast. With plans to provide nationwide local channel services and a digital TV version for a global audience, these platforms are determined to ensure that Bhutanese entertainment reaches audiences far and wide, overcoming hurdles one step at a time.

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