Mubi Streaming Service Launches in Southeast Asia (EXCLUSIVE)

Patrick Frater

Film specialist streaming platform Mubi is to launch in Southeast Asia. The service kicks off with operation in Malaysia, and has plans to quickly launch in another half-dozen territories in the fast-developing region.

Mubi will retain its highly curated approach of offering one new film title per day and retaining each for just 30 days. But to cope with the social, ethnic and cultural diversity in the region, the Southeast Asia launch requires a significant modification of the business model.

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“In Southeast Asia you cannot scale up a business that focuses on the Coen Brothers and the like,” Mubi founder Efe Cakarel told Variety. “It is a market that engages with local content and cinema from the region. One-size-fits-all does not work in Southeast Asia.”

In addition to its, familiar offering of mostly Western festival films, Mubi will debut in Malaysia with two more VOD clusters that it describes as channels. South Asian movies, mostly in Hindi and Bengali, will be available on the Mubi Dekho! channel; films from the Nusantara region (Malaysia and Indonesia) will play on Mubi Sinema.

In the near future, Mubi plans to add at least two further channels in Malaysia, one concentrating on Chinese-language and Korean films, and another with a tight focus on South Indian films in the Tamil and Telugu languages.

Mubi quietly opened a regional office in the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur in 2018. It begins operations having hooked up with two of the local telecommunications giants, Maxis and Digi. These will provide bandwidth and the billing relationship with end users, many of whom do not use credit cards for recurring payments. The service is priced at RM15 ($3.63) per month.

It is in negotiations with telecoms providers in Indonesia, ahead of a launch aimed at early 2020. Expansion in other ASEAN countries is expected to follow.

Mubi does not disclose its global or per-market subscriber numbers. Though the total is understood to be less than a million, the company says it is growing fast and has a positive cash flow. “It is incredibly hard to double revenue in a year and still be profitable,” said Cakarel. “This shows the business model is working well.”

The company is privately held and owned by a mix of financial and strategic investors. These include Hong Kong-listed Huanxi Media, with which it previously sought to launch a Mubi-like service in mainland China. It has supply relationships with Hollywood studios including Sony Pictures, NBCUniversal and Paramount, as well as international indie groups Studiocanal, Pathe and eOne.

“The Southeast Asia market is very fragmented with a lot of noise from a lot of players, but almost everyone is trying to do the same thing,” Cakarel said. “They are skewing heavily towards TV series, trying to find blockbuster content, and trying to reach as many households as possible in one go. The problem is that none have enough capital to amass enough content to provide a compelling offering. Netflix and Amazon are offering content that is focused on the Western market. In the mind of the consumer there is no clear winner.”

Chinese OTT giants including Tencent Video and iQiyi have also targeted Southeast Asia as their first region for overseas expansion. But Mubi argues that, like the global streamers, these too are generalists seeking large volume, rather than targeted specialists.

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