Malaysia-based streaming video service iflix will be launching a new "channels" feature shortly, and has announced that Walt Disney Co. (NYSE: DIS) will be the first content provider to use it. The Disney iflix channel will include content from Disney's TV properties as well as Marvel and Pixar movies.
This announcement follows Disney's very recent decision to end its partnership with Netflix Inc. (Nasdaq: NFLX) and launch its own worldwide video streaming service in 2019. On the face of it, the iflix agreement doesn't really align with that strategy: Disney is merely swapping one distribution partner with another. However, Disney on iflix will have its own channel, and while pricing was not disclosed, I suspect Disney will most likely assess its own pricing. Netflix may not have been willing to allow Disney to create its own package of content and attach its own separate price tag to its service, and that might have contributed to the decision to part ways. (See Disney Joins OTT Bandwagon.)
This would suggest that Disney's decision to "go it alone" might actually not be all that alone. In fact, the announcement at the end of the second quarter of 2017, about a service that it plans to launch only two years later, seemed a bit rushed. Details are sparse at the moment, but the company did make it clear that worldwide distribution was to come later. This iflix announcement suggests that it is trying to achieve a sort of partial independence globally, where it gets to distribute content online via a Disney-branded service without setting up its own local infrastructure or marketing presence. This will also allow it to build a global footprint for its service right away while it works on a longer-term strategy.
Meanwhile Disney's strategy in the US will be quite different. It appears from its initial comments that the media giant is looking at a direct-to-consumer service within the US, and with its acquisition of a majority stake in BAMTech from MLB, it has the infrastructure assets to do so -- not just for its own service, but for other content owners as well. (See Why Disney Could End Up Streaming for AT&T.)
This is a useful arrangement for iflix too, and provides a marquee partner to kick-off its channels strategy. In addition to movie rights, iflix will also get some of Disney's hit TV shows and children's programming. Most importantly, it will get exclusive iflix original content developed in collaboration with Disney’s MCN Maker Studios.
It probably doesn't hurt that iflix technology chief Emmanuel Frenehard held the same role at Disney International, leading technology strategy and operations across all Disney subsidiaries outside North America until last year. Disney management should be confident that iflix's technology will support Disney's quality standards.
The deal also highlights the growth of the iflix portfolio. From a small Malaysian start-up it has grown rapidly into a global service including several countries in Asia, the Middle-East and North Africa, with significant investment from leading broadcasters Sky and Hearst, and now a reference partner in Disney.
— Aditya Kishore, Practice Leader, Video Transformation, Telco Transformation