How Bongo, the ‘Netflix of Bangladesh,’ won the local video streaming market with just $10M

Bangladesh's largest video streaming service is expanding, profitable and open for buyout talks

Thousands of miles away from the U.S., where technology giants, cable networks, and studios are locked in an intense multi-billion dollar battle to court users to their video streaming services, a startup in Bangladesh has already won the local video streaming market.

And it did all of this in six years with less than $10 million. And it’s also profitable.

Ahad Mohammad started Bongo in 2013. The on-demand video service began life as a channel on YouTube in 2014 before expanding as a standalone app to users a year later.

Of the 96 million people online in Bangladesh, Bongo has gained a majority of the base. Bongo with its local and international has over 75 million users subscribed to either Bongo’s YouTube channel or to its app, Ahad said.

Bongo’s domination in Bangladesh is second to none in the nation. iFlix, which raised $50 million a few months ago to expand its presence in several Asian markets, and India’s Zee5 are among the players that Bongo competes with, though their market share remains tiny in comparison.

TechCrunch caught up with Ahad to get an insight into the early days of building Bongo and what holds next for the “Netflix of Bangladesh” as it increasingly expands to international markets.

bongo video app

Image via Bongo

The story of Bongo’s rise also underscores the challenges an internet startup faces in scaling in a developing market where infrastructure is poor.

The poor infrastructure and users’ distaste for paying for an online service are hands down the biggest challenge that Bongo had to face, said Ahad.

Building infrastructure

“When we started, there was barely any infrastructure set up in the country for video streaming. At that time, we only had 2G internet in the country, and it was a struggle to even watch a music video on the phone. In the early days of the internet here, the infrastructure was created to handle simple data delivery, such as emails and messaging. Due to the lack of options and availability of other services, we had to create our own setup in order to deliver video to our consumers,” he said.

“With the support of one of our affiliated companies, we created a high-end video processing data center which connects to all the major telecom operators data centers, giving us extremely fast and efficient video data transfer. It also allowed us the ability to downlink live TV channels using their satellites and convert it to a digital feed,” he added.

Bongo has also tied up with telecom operators, a common practice for video streaming companies especially in developing markets. The service today has a partnership with every major telecom network in the country as well as 1,100 small ones.

Its data centers today span across the country to deliver content at low cost and at low latency. “We also worked with the national internet exchange to ensure that the pipes were set up to ensure an efficient delivery system,” he said.

Bongo is now going a step further. Currently, the company is testing ways to create a networking system that would allow users in certain localities — mostly in rural parts of Bangladesh — to access its content without internet access.

The idea is to create a mesh network with micro-CDNs. “Say for example, in high-traffic areas such as a university or a bus stand, we will have content delivery networks that will store all the content in the cache. Users in the vicinity will be able to connect to these networks and download movies and shows,” he said.

Getting content to offline users is crucial. Video streaming players in many developing markets are exploring ways to make their service more accessible. India’s AltBalaji, which has more than 27 million paying subscribers, inked a partnership with Microsoft last week to deliver content through a peer-to-peer local Wi-Fi.

The technology infrastructure that Bongo has built over the years is now a revenue source for the company. Ahad said a number of telecom providers and media companies in the nation today rely on its technology in their operations. Other revenue sources for Bongo are advertising and subscription plans.

Bongo will continue to focus on developing technology solutions going forward. The startup is now developing a payments service and exploring ways to bring social commerce to video streaming. “The idea is that users will be able to buy what they see on a video,” he said.

bongodb lead

Executives of Bongo pose for a picture. Image via Bongo

But how efficiently Bongo can make its service available is only as good as its titles. The service, again like more than three-dozen services in India, has focused on bulking up its catalog with titles that are relevant to the local audience.

Massive library of content

“We started by offering a wide range of content, from movies to TV shows, documentaries, lifestyle content, music, and more. We work with the top content creators and producers in the country and pride ourselves in having the best quality content. Over the years, we have collected a huge amount of data and really been able to understand the user behavior and consumption patterns,” explained Ahad.

The platform today boasts of more than a hundred thousand titles, most of which are in Bangla, he said. Over the years, the platform has added English and Hindi movies and shows as well. Like Netflix, Apple, and Disney, Bongo, too, is producing its own original shows and movies.

What’s even more impressive is that Bongo took early-mover advantage and secured perpetual rights for most titles for a few dollars apiece, Ahad said.

“It is important for us to have a wide variety of content, so we are flexible with each partner, but in general we like to purchase or produce as much as we can so that we own the content, helping us build up our asset base. We also have content partnerships with major TV networks in South Asia, including Zee, Sony and Colors, whose channels we offer to our users in Bangladesh,” he added.

The startup is also exploring if it could bring educational content on the platform. “The education system in Bangladesh can use a lot of improvement, and we believe that creating access to information can help benefit and enrich the lives of millions. We want to focus on women and children for basic education, healthcare and life skills. What to do during a flood or natural disaster; basic health tips, but also on a broader scale, things such as farming or running home businesses.”

The path ahead

In recent years, Bongo has also expanded to other nations including Nepal, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Maldives, UAE, Oman, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia. Ahad said the startup is quickly gaining market share in these markets. Bongo has also tied up with a production company in the UK to produce some joint-venture movies, and is charting a similar path for North America.

So what comes next for Bongo? It’s unclear. It has attained the market-leading position in Bangladesh and is expanding outside of the nation. On one hand, Ahad is working to make Bongo public. On the other hand, he says he is open to any buyout deals from a giant like Netflix. The company will soon look at raising some funds through its Series B financing round.

It will be fascinating to see where Bongo goes from here.