Malaysia streaming platform iflix cuts staff as debt deadline, virus uncertainties loom

The iflix logo is seen on a retro television screen. Graphic: DealStreetAsia

Malaysia’s iflix has laid off an undisclosed number of its staff, market sources say, as the on-demand video platform faces uncertainties related to the virus outbreak and a key debt deadline approaches.

DealStreetAsia understands that the number of staff affected is fewer than 65 and scattered across functions and markets. iflix has said that it is available to consumers in four markets — Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines and Thailand — but also covers nine other markets in Asia.

In a statement to DealStreetAsia, iflix chief executive Marc Barnett described the layoffs as a response to the uncertainties surrounding the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The industry is not immune to these unprecedented circumstances,” Barnett said. “Our decision to reduce the company’s headcount has come after careful consideration and in conjunction with other cost-cutting measures, to enable the company to endure this indefinite and uncertain period.

“We remain focused on driving the business through to breakeven in 2021 and these steps are part of ensuring we remain on that path and can navigate the current challenges.”

The layoffs will reduce costs for iflix as a key July deadline approaches for the company to complete a public listing. According to financials filed with the Australian Securities and Investments Commission in September 2019, iflix may be forced to redeem just over $47.5 million of convertible loans if it is not listed by July 31, 2020.

DealStreetAsia reported in January, based on multiple industry sources, that the planned initial public offering in Australia has been deferred and that the company is seeking to raise around $50 million from existing investors.

Founded in 2014, the Catch Group-backed company had last disclosed raising capital from Fidelity International, MNC Group, Yoshimoto Kogyo and JTBC in 2019. Earlier investors include Hearst Communications, EDBI, Liberty Global, Zain, Sky Plc and Evolution Media Capital.

It is not known if the convertibles, issued in February and June 2019, have already been or may be converted before the listing deadline arrives. But even without the threat of debt redemptions, iflix has been burning cash.

As at end-2018, iflix had a net liability position of $68.6 million, including $77.7 million of negative working capital. After adding funds raised in 2019 — comprising the $47.5 million of convertibles, $3 million of Series C preference shares issued in lieu of content and $15.5 million of ordinary shares issued in lieu of content and marketing payments — the company had $12.7 million of cash reserves as at September 2019. In the filing, iflix estimated that it would only have sufficient capital to fund ongoing corporate and administrative overheads until Nov 30, 2019.

iflix has not announced any additional funding since then.

Barnett’s goal of hitting breakeven in 2021 will require significant improvements to the company’s economics. The company’s net loss widened in 2018 to $158.1 million from a $120.4 million deficit a year ago. iflix did, however, narrow its operating cash burn in 2018, reducing net cash flows used in operations to $25.5 million from $67.4 million in 2017.

This week’s layoffs are not the first for iflix, which has let go of staff at various points since 2016, and serve to emphasise the increased pressure faced by Southeast Asian streaming services as they compete with Netflix and other international players.

In March, Singapore-headquartered streaming service HOOQ Digital filed for liquidation, citing an inability to provide sustainable returns and cover escalating costs. HOOQ was backed by Singapore telco Singtel and entertainment giants Sony Pictures and Warner Bros Entertainment.

Insignia Ventures founding managing partner Yinglan Tan says he is not surprised to learn of iflix’s layoffs, describing a “larger, overall slowdown” of the early local players and noting the deferred IPO.

“They have long been weighed down by competition from both supply consolidation in media and globalizing distribution in streaming,” Tan said of HOOQ and iflix. “They couldn’t grow fast enough to acquire a significant, defensible user base nor was their original content able to catapult them into sustainable market leadership in the same way that, say, House of Cards did for Netflix.”

The pandemic-driven social distancing measures in the past several weeks have actually been a boon for content and streaming platforms, with Netflix, Disney, Amazon and YouTube all having to reduce streaming quality to handle the surge in traffic. But early local players such as HOOQ and iflix may have struggled to properly capture that trend, Tan said.

“The social distancing measures have certainly been an opportunity for these content and streaming platforms to strengthen adoption, but opportunity needs to meet firepower (capitalization) and direction (a long-term plan),” he said.

“This is a case where the rising tide doesn’t necessarily lift all boats.”

Singapore Reporter/s

In Singapore, we are looking to double our reporting team by this year-end to comprehensively cover the fast-moving world of funded startups and VC, PE & M&A deals. We want reporters who can tell our readers what is really happening in these sectors and why it matters to markets, companies and consumers. The ability to write precisely and urgently is crucial for these roles. Ideal candidates must have to ability to work in a collaborative, dynamic, and fast-changing environment. We want our new hires to be digitally savvy and ready to experiment with new forms of storytelling. Most importantly, we are looking for hard-hitting reporters who work well in a team. Collaboration and collegiality are a must.

Following vacancies can be applied for (only in Singapore).

Following vacancies can be applied for (only in Singapore).   

  • A reporter to track companies/startups that have raised private capital, and have the potential to become unicorns. SEA currently has over 40 companies with a valuation of over $100 million and under $1 billion.
  • A reporter who can get behind the scenes and reveal how funding rounds are put together, or why they’ve failed to materialise. She/he in this role will largely focus on long-format stories. 
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Singapore Reporter/s

In Singapore, we are looking to double our reporting team by this year-end to comprehensively cover the fast-moving world of funded startups and VC, PE & M&A deals. We want reporters who can tell our readers what is really happening in these sectors and why it matters to markets, companies and consumers. The ability to write precisely and urgently is crucial for these roles. Ideal candidates must have to ability to work in a collaborative, dynamic, and fast-changing environment. We want our new hires to be digitally savvy and ready to experiment with new forms of storytelling. Most importantly, we are looking for hard-hitting reporters who work well in a team. Collaboration and collegiality are a must.

Following vacancies can be applied for (only in Singapore).

Following vacancies can be applied for (only in Singapore).   

  • A reporter to track companies/startups that have raised private capital, and have the potential to become unicorns. SEA currently has over 40 companies with a valuation of over $100 million and under $1 billion.
  • A reporter who can get behind the scenes and reveal how funding rounds are put together, or why they’ve failed to materialise. She/he in this role will largely focus on long-format stories. 
  • A journalist to track special situations funds, distressed debt and private credit (from the PE angle) across Asia.