Impact Assessment

Commercial distribution of VCDs in rural Cambodia, ILO 2003

    Since the materials had to be immediately saleable, the project brought in some of the best-known Cambodian comedians, one of whom already had a stage persona as a businessman. With them, two comedy episodes were put together, featuring two competing restaurants - one very badly managed and the other better managed. In these episodes, a number of issues came up; for example, the badly-managed restaurant ran out of money, as all the customers went to the competition, so the owner refused to pay his workers. The scene where the workers protest, and the owner's daughter mediates in the dispute, for example, resonated with rural viewers.

    With the two episodes, several commercial distributors were approached, one of whom agreed to test-market them (the others are launching something similar now, as 'copycats'). This distributor paid for all copying and distribution costs, and made a small profit - but for the pilot, the ILO covered the initial production costs of the episodes. The distributor has a particularly strong network in the rural north-west of the country, which was a considerable advantage in the circumstances.

    The distributor initially made 3,000 copies, but these sold quickly and she had to make additional copies. At the time of writing, sales stand at around 10,000. The selling price is $0.80-1.50 each in urban markets, and $2.00 each in rural markets (there are more traders in the chain to reach rural areas). Piracy is a problem, both for profitability of the distributor and for tracking of sales, and therefore the price is kept as low as possible; also, distribution is being achieved as quickly as possible, to reach all potential customers first.

    Summary of results
    A follow-up study (download below) has found that the material had indeed been seen by many people; of the small businesses approached, about 40% had seen it. The venue depended on their location; rural viewers were most likely to have seen it in a village cinema, in a restaurant or coffee shop, or on a bus, but the material was ultimately disseminated in many forms. For example, a taxi driver made an audio tape and played it to passengers. A cable operator in one small town put it out through his network.

    Viewers had often retained ideas about management skills, but otherwise, perceptions of urban viewers were rather different to those of rural viewers. In particular, rural viewers preferred different media personalities, and more obvious humour; on the other hand, they were also much more interested than urban viewers in messages that would help them in their own business (urban viewers were in general more interested in simple entertainment).

    The immediate plan is to produce additional episodes, featuring the same restaurants and bringing in other issues of concern to the ILO (such as child labour and HIV/AIDS). One challenge will be to raise awareness about these issues (and possible solutions) while remaining funny and indeed saleable. Another challenge will be to keep production costs low enough, so that the distributor can increasingly cover them, now that the saleability of the materials has been demonstrated.

    Associated Activities and Documents
    »TV programmes in Cambodia, ILO 2001
    Synthesis Documents
    »Fifth Annual Service Markets Seminar, Chiang Mai, Thailand, September 2004