Video on-demand service dodges claims of unpaid bills

Malaysia-based iflix insists it has not lowered the curtain on its operations in Myanmar, despite closing its office last October and allegedly owing money to the prominent actress it recruited as brand ambassador.

By KYAW YE LYNN | FRONTIER

NEARLY three years ago, when a Malaysia-based video on-demand service expanded operations to Myanmar, its locally-employed staff said they had one of the best working environments in the country.

iflix launched its service in Myanmar in March 2017 after opening an office on Dhammazedi Road in Yangon’s Bahan Township.

“The office was not that great, but we were very happy working for iflix,” said a former employee who worked for the company for nearly two years.

“It was fun dealing with local celebrities,” he told Frontier in early February.

iflix’s Myanmar team of about 10 staff was headed by an American, Ms Adeana Greenlee. During this time the company reached agreements with some celebrities and producers to add local content to attract Myanmar customers.

These agreements were signed between iflix’s Malaysia office and the individual; the role of the Myanmar office was limited to explaining the terms and conditions, several sources said.

“The first step was to bring Phway Phway into the team,” the former staffer recalled.

Phway Phway, winner of two Myanmar Motion Picture Best Actress Academy Awards, joined iflix in January 2018 as brand ambassador under a three-year contract.

“With Phway Phway in the team, iflix was considered a trusted foreign brand and more celebrities and producers joined hands with us,” he said.

“I think we did very well, but I didn’t know what was wrong with iflix,” he said, adding that he and his co-workers were not paid regularly after mid-2019.

“That’s why I left the team a few months before the office closed in October 2019,” he said.

Complaints to police

A few weeks after iflix departed Myanmar, some of its former Myanmar employees were summoned to a police station in Bahan Township.

A Myanmar producer had filed a complaint against the company after discovering that its office had closed.

“He claimed iflix had not paid money as per the contract [to provide content] and was frustrated by iflix’s departure without any prior notice,” said another former iflix employee, who was involved in dealing with Myanmar content providers.

At the police station, the former iflix employees explained that they were not responsible for paying the contracts to provide content, and suggested that the police and the producer contact the company’s headquarters in the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur.

The other former iflix employee said that while the Myanmar team facilitated the negotiations for contracts to provide content, the contracts were signed by Myanmar content providers and iflix executives in Kuala Lumpur.

“We just approached them and explained about the contract,” the former employee told Frontier on February 21. “We suggested to [the producer] that he see a lawyer rather than blaming us.”

Frontier sought interviews with actors, actresses and owners of production agencies in Myanmar who were named by former iflix employees as having signed content-sharing agreements with the company. None of them wanted to be interviewed.

However, in a Facebook post on January 18, Phway Phway said she had never been paid by iflix, despite signing a three-year contract with the company in January 2018.

In a telephone interview with Frontier on January 29, she confirmed that iflix had never met its contractual obligation to pay her annually.

“I was getting worried after they failed to make even the first payment by the second year,” Phway Phway said. “I was alarmed to learn, when I contacted the local staff I’d been dealing with, that iflix now had no staff and no office.”

Phway Phway has consulted a lawyer about taking action against iflix to recover what she is owed.

“I am not sure if it can be done in Myanmar or in Malaysia,” she said, declining to reveal the amount to her.

Zin Wine, who chaired the Myanmar Motion Picture Organisation between 2012 and 2019, said any legal action would have to take place in Malaysia.

“As far as I know, the contracts were not in accordance with Myanmar law,” Zin Wine told Frontier in early February.

“Some did not even read the contracts because they were written in English,” he said, adding that there was also no Myanmar government tax stamp on the contract.

“That’s why most people do not want to publicise how they suffered.”

Iflix responds, sort of

Ms Sabina Medarevic, the head of communications at iflix headquarters in Kuala Lumpur, told Frontier that iflix had no plan to terminate its service in Myanmar despite the closure of the Myanmar office in late 2019.

“After careful consideration, it was determined that it makes more business sense to manage iflix’s Myanmar business from the head office in Kuala Lumpur,” Medarevic said in an email on February 13.

“iflix’s service is still available to all users across Myanmar, and there are no plans to discontinue the service in the country.”

She said there was no legal action pending against the company in Myanmar, but declined to answer questions about allegations of non-payment by content providers because it was against iflix policy to comment “on rumour and speculation”.

There is no reliable data on the number of iflix subscribers in Myanmar, though it is believed to be declining.

iflix’s telecommunications providers in Myanmar included Ooredoo, which suspended its data pack arrangement with the company six months before the contract expired in December 2019, said Ooredoo’s head of corporate communications, U Tint Naing Htut.

“It is true that we terminated the data pack last July,” he told Frontier by phone on February 24, but declined to comment on the early termination of the contract.

A telecoms industry source told Frontier that Ooredoo had walked away from the contract because iflix had failed to pay for the data service.

iflix also had an arrangement with MPT, which according to its website continues to offer 12 months’ unlimited access to iflix for a subscription of K30,000. Frontier sought comment from MPT.

iflix top-up cards are also still available, including at the country’s largest supermarket chain, City Mart. A representative for City Mart did not respond to requests for comment.

A sales staff at a City Mart branch near Yangon’s Aung San Stadium said there was little demand for iflix top-up cards, however.

“As far as I can remember, we have not sold a card in recent months,” she said, adding that she had subscribed to iflix in early 2018 for two months but found that the content was “not interesting” compared to what’s available on Netflix.

“iflix tries to copy Netflix but offers boring and old content that is easily available online for free,” she said. “So why should I pay for iflix?”

By Kyaw Ye Lynn

By Kyaw Ye Lynn

Kyaw Ye Lynn is a Myanmar journalist based in Yangon. Prior to joining Frontier, he worked as a freelance journalist and fixer. He began his career at the Popular News weekly journal in 2011.
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