Thursday, August 17, 2017

Netflix streams into Myanmar

Netflix – the world’s largest internet television network – has come to Myanmar as part of the firm’s expansion into 130 new countries. But slow download speeds and expensive data fees mean Myanmar’s DVD shops are not under threat from online streaming just yet.

During a keynote speech at the International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Netflix co-founder and chief executive Reed Hastings said the move was “the birth of a new global internet TV network”.

“With this launch, consumers around the world – from Singapore to St Petersburg, from San Francisco to Sao Paulo – will be able to enjoy TV shows and movies simultaneously – no more waiting,” he said. “With the help of the internet, we are putting power in consumers’ hands to watch whenever, wherever and on whatever device.”

But the promise of no more waiting may be premature for Myanmar, which has just recently entered the age of 3G networks and Wi-Fi connections. Myanmar’s internet remains frustratingly slow. According to a May 2015 study conducted by internet metrics provider Ookla, Myanmar’s internet download speed averaged just over 6 megabits (Mbps) per second. At that speed it would take a Myanmar Netflix user 3.7 hours to download 1 gigabyte of video – such as an hour-long episode of Netflix’s original series House of Cards.

Streaming data over Wi-Fi connections can require hours of buffering, and most people in Myanmar rely on expensive 3G connections provided by the country’s three mobile service providers – Telenor, Ooredoo and Myanmar Post & Telecommunications (MPT).

But mobile 3G networks are not necessarily much faster. On the afternoon of January 6, download speeds over the Ooredoo network were several times slower than the already slow average. Download speeds for MPT were just over 6.24 Mbps per second at the same time of day.

A spokesperson for Telenor, which operates Myanmar’s largest 3G network, told The Myanmar Times the firm welcomed Netflix’s expansion into the country. The spokesperson said it would take “more time to understand the issues it may raise” but noted that more than 57 percent of Telenor’s 12 million Myanmar customers are already active data users.

But binge-watching an entire season on Netflix could use a great deal of data, and cost the user a lot of money. With a premium MPT internet package of 6.5 GB a month available for K25,000, it would cost a user roughly K50,000 to watch all 13 episodes of the newest season of House of Cards.

So while some Myanmar internet users took to Facebook to celebrate the announcement, traditional DVD shop owners showed no concern at a potential loss of business.

“Yes, I heard that Netflix is now available in Myanmar, but it’s too early to say how that situation will affect the DVD shops,” said Ma Sweet, the owner of a popular DVD shop downtown. “But it will cost money to get it, which some people won’t be able to afford. So they will choose DVDs as usual.”

Netflix offers a one-month free trial, but afterward its basic package costs US$8 per month. When the subscription fee is added to the data cost of MPT’s best-bargain internet package, that season of House of Cards could run subscribers nearly $60. DVD shops, on the other hand, sell copies of each season for about K6000 – or $5.

Because the online-only packages must be purchased with credit cards or online bank accounts such as Paypal, most people in Myanmar's largely cash-based economy will struggle to purchase subscriptions. Figures for credit card use were unavailable, but the Myanmar Payments Union estimated in July 2015 that 1.2 million people in the country had debit cards, and just 10pc had access to banking services.

Following Netflix’s announcement that is now available in 20 different languages and more than 190 countries – exceptions include North Korea, China and Syria – the firm’s share finished 9.31pc higher at $117.68.


Additional reporting by Myo Satt