Why HOOQ shut down

May 3, 2020
PHOTO: (Background Photo) Nathan Dumlao | Unsplash

AT A time when video streaming is at an all-time high (no thanks to a global pandemic that is forcing people into quarantine inside their homes), one of the region’s streaming players officially pulled the plug last weekend.

On April 30, Singapore-based streaming platform HOOQ shut down. Its homepage now redirects to a brief statement of thanks and FAQ for current subscribers.

The day before, the official Twitter page of HOOQ Philippines also posted its own 'thank you' message:

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That same day, Philippine-based staff, including head of content Jeffrey Remigio and country manager Sheila Paul, said their brief farewells on social media. “Not another economic statistic… this time it’s close to home,” tweeted Paul.

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According to a report by financial site The Ken, employees knew the writing was on the wall after a March 27 town hall in its Singapore headquarters.

It was a surprising turn of events, say reports, for a company that had been founded just five years ago and backed by a trifecta of three large conglomerates — Singaporean telecommunications company Singtel, as well as global powerhouses WarnerMedia and Sony Pictures Television.

Its ambition? “[T]o be the largest OTT (over-the-top) video service in the region,” said the Singtel Group’s Jonathan Auerbach at the time.

That all came crashing down last month, when Singtel — now the majority owner of the company — issued a terse announcement that HOOQ would commence “collectors’ voluntary liquidation”.

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In an official statement released on March 27, HOOQ cited tough competition, the high costs of pumping out content, and only a “gradual” increase in an audience’s willingness to pay for streaming. It also said that content providers are increasingly choosing to feed content directly to consumers. (Locally, ABS-CBN launched its own streaming service, iWant — a rebrand of their existing platform iWant TV — in late 2018.)

For these reasons, “HOOQ has not been able to grow sufficiently to provide sustainable returns nor cover escalating content costs and the continuous operating costs of an independent OTT distribution platform,” the company continued.

When asked for further comment, representatives from HOOQ Philippines referred SPIN Life back to the company's March 27 statement.

Variety’s look at the platform's finances showed how precarious its financial situation had become.

“While revenues doubled from $10 million in the year to March 2018, to $21.9 million, pre-tax losses increased, too, from $56.6 million to $62.5 million,” wrote Variety’s Patrick Frater.

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The Ken also conducted its own investigation into the company's regulatory filings, and estimated that the company had lost $220 million in financial year 2019.

Variety's Frater also noted that by 2018, Singtel’s original partners in the venture — Sony Pictures and WarnerMedia — no longer owned their original 35 percent stake in the company.

So why did HOOQ shut down? Wrote Frater: “The simplest explanation for the collapse is that HOOQ was under-capitalized.”

Southeast Asia has long been projected to be the new battleground for streaming, with the number of paying subscribers estimated to reach 121.5 million by 2021, according to research group Kagan. HOOQ moved to aggressively corner that market by focusing on local content.

Ever since it launched in the Philippines, HOOQ offered a strong roster of Filipino movies on its bench. It also partnered with the two major TV stations, ABS-CBN and GMA, to also air their most popular TV series on the platform.

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It also began to produce its own content. HOOQ made waves in 2017 when it announced a sequel mini-series and movie to Erik Matti’s crime drama On The Job. In 2019, it co-produced Nadine Lustre’s Ulan with Viva Films.

At its height, HOOQ claimed to have 80 million users in Singapore, the Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia, and India.

If the streaming service had held on a little longer, would it have benefited from the current, pandemic-fueled boom? Media Partners Asia said that, compared to January figures, streaming time has almost doubled in the region by April 11, with audiences now consuming 58 billion minutes of mobile video per week in Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore and the Philippines.

We’ll never know.

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PHOTO: (Background Photo) Nathan Dumlao | Unsplash
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