North Korea launches video-on-demand services

North Korean authorities have launched a Netflix-style video-on-demand service, Manbang, which means “everywhere”, according to a report from NK News.

Viewers can call up documentary films about the North Korean leadership and learn Russian and English languages. They can also watch five state-controlled TV channels in real-time, including Korea Central Television (KCTV), Mansudae Television and Ryongnamsan TV.

On-demand programmes can be accessed by typing in the title or by browsing through categories. Technically, the service is more akin to catch-up TV or OTT platforms like Apple TV or Roku than Netflix, which is of course banned in North Korea.

The service can be accessed via a set-top box and quasi-internet protocol television (IPTV) platform, and according to a KCTV report, is very easy to install: “Firstly, connect a phone line to the high-speed modem and then connect a cable box to the national network. Then connect a High-Definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI) port of a cable box to the television, plug in and turn on. That’s all.”

While the programming is totally state-controlled and the user interface basic, it’s still a big development in a country with such limited internet services. North Korea has its own version of the internet limited to domestic sites, while access to global sites is restricted to a chosen few.

It’s not clear how many North Korean citizens can access the service, but in one respect it’s not so different to VOD services in the West in that demand is being driven by kids.

“Children tended to pester to show new interesting videos again after their release, but we had difficulty in dealing with it,” teacher Kim Geun Hee told KCTV. “However, we are happy since we are now able to show films to them again, and children enjoy it.”

Look out for a guest blog on Chime tomorrow from FilmDoo’s Weerada Sucharitkul about South Korean VOD – possibly the world’s most advanced.