North Korea launches a Netflix-like service called “Manbang”

A set-top box offering a Netflix-style service has been launched by North Korea’s state broadcaster, the Korea Central Television (KCTV).

North Korea launches a Netflix-like service called “Manbang”

Local reports claim the box, called Manbang, allows viewers to watch documentary films about the country’s leadership, as well as content from five different TV channels. Users can also allegedly access information about Kim Jong Un’s activities, and education sources for learning Russian and English.

Manbang roughly translates as “everywhere” or “every direction”, and its launch on KCTV has led some sources to make comparisons to cord-cutting services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime.

“The information and communications technology is based upon two-way communications,” Kim Jong Min, head of the centre in charge of providing information and technology, said in the KCTV report, according to NK News. “If a viewer wants to watch, for instance, an animal movie and sends a request to the equipment, it will show the relevant video to the viewer… this is two-way communications.”

Manbang seems to work via a quasi-internet protocol television (IPTV) service, rather than full video-on-demand (VOD). The former is more closely associated with streaming an over-the-air TV channel in real-time, rather than on-demand viewing in the mold of Netflix. It is, however, hard to be specific about the service’s capabilities – given that most of this information is coming from the country’s state broadcaster.

There’s also the issue that the majority of North Koreans have absolutely no internet connectivity. As NK News points out, statistics from the World Bank and Netcraft show that the number of secure internet servers per million people in the DPRK was rated zero in 2015. The world average is 209.

The existence of Manbang is nevertheless an interesting indication of a movement towards greater connectivity in North Korea. For the state, this clearly presents a new means to disseminate propaganda, and yet there’s also the chance that it could offer a path for outside media to enter the country. As a recent project by the Human Rights Foundation and Forum 280 shows, it’s hard to completely control the dissemination of digital content – even if it’s passed around on old USB drives

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