Improving Cambodian intellectual property (IP) laws will encourage the production of locally made digital content such as films, television shows, and music, according to Smart Axiata CEO Thomas Hundt.
In a wide-ranging interview for the upcoming B2B print issue, Hundt spoke enthusiastically about the future potential for Cambodian digital content makers to produce high-quality local content and earn a living doing so.
As one of the country’s largest Mobile Service Providers (MSPs), Smart services would provide a logical platform for consumption and distribution of such content, so Hundt’s enthusiasm is certainly understandable.
It is clear that Cambodians are already avid consumers of foreign-produced digital content; with Smart recording a fourfold increase in data volume over the last year, and the sight of locals streaming music or video through their smartphones on the roadside becoming ubiquitous in the country’s main centres.
Although the appetite for digital content in the Cambodian market is now readily apparent, Hundt identified a few key stumbling blocks in the way for local producers.
“The challenge is to give those who are developing content possibilities to monetise,” he said.
“We still have here a culture of, “oh I can go into a DVD shop and buy a DVD for a dollar,” and people are not yet respecting the rights of somebody who has produced content, I mean intellectual property rights over the content. So far there is very limited willingness but also ability—and this we have to acknowledge of course—for Cambodians to pay for software, to pay for content, pay for music or for movies.”
Hundt said that from an industry perspective focusing on developing and implementing improved IP laws would “certainly be favourable.”
“The challenge is to create understanding for those who are consuming content that only if somebody is paying for it can those who are producing content continue to produce content,” he explained. “If there is nobody paying for it, then what is the point for somebody here to develop an app or to produce a movie or song, if you can’t earn a living from it.”
Another barrier Hundt identified was market scale.
“In the US where there are over 300 million people, if just 20 million people subscribe to HBO; no problem, you can afford to produce good content,” he said. “In Cambodia we have 15 million people, and the ability as well as the willingness to pay is lower than in Europe or the US. So the question is at which moment will we have enough people here in Cambodia ready to pay for content generated by Cambodians with Khmer language, nice Khmer movies et cetera. If there is a good mass [of people], then it can start.”
Hundt said Smart is working to encourage this. They are currently working in partnership with Universal Music to bring quality content to people through more accessible channels.
Regarding the protection of local content, Hundt said there is a long way to go and Smart are committed to fostering the process.
“There are a lot of building blocks to be laid; for availability and delivery of content as well as from a legal and regulatory perspective. The government is working on ecommerce law and there is some traction, but also Intellectual Property rights—I think there is room for improvement in terms of protection of IP.”
As services like Smart bring more and more Cambodians online, and the Cambodian middle class continues to expand, the issue of accessibility and protection of digital content in this country will become more pressing.
Hundt believes exciting times are ahead, and great opportunities are available if this development is properly managed.
“It’s step by step,” he said, “but we are part of this journey.”