Hooq Mauritius is following the Singapore-based Hooq Digital mothership into streaming oblivion, dashing any hopes that local producers may still have held of an 11th-hour miracle.
A notice from Hooq’s majority-owner, Singapore telco Singtel, yesterday said that the Mauritius entity had “presented a petition to the Bankruptcy Division of the Supreme Court of Mauritius to wind up Hooq M” and to appoint a provisional liquidator – Anjeev Hurry – in Mauritius.
Singtel said that the winding up of Hooq M “is not expected to have any material impact on the net tangible assets or earnings per share of Singtel”.
The Mauritius entity signed content contracts for the Hooq operation in Asia.
Content-related debts related to the failed streamer have not been disclosed, but are widely believed to run into the tens of millions. Creditors range from U.S. studios to indie producers across the region.
The Mauritius entity, which employed less than five people, was not part of the end-March voluntary liquidation of the Singapore-based Hooq Digital Pte Ltd, majority held by telco Singtel, with minority partners Sony Pictures Television and Warner Bros.
The Mauritius operation was headed up by Varsha Mutty, who joined in July last year. Mutty reported to Hooq’s former chief content officer, Jennifer Batty, based in the now-defunct Singapore/regional company.
The Singapore entity was placed into voluntary liquidation at the end of March, with a total accumulated loss of US$220.8 million and liabilities of US$70.8 million to end March 2019, according to filings with Singapore’s Accounting and Corporate Regulatory Authority (ACRA). Revenue for the same year was US$21.9 million and after-tax loss from continuing operations was US$63.9 million.
Neither losses for the year to end March 2020 nor content/production-related debts have been made public.
About 240 people employed by Hooq across Asia lost their jobs. Singtel agreed to cover salaries until the end of their notice periods, with severance paid according to laws in different countries.
The impact on independent production houses of the Hooq failure has not yet been assessed and the exact number of productions left flapping in the wind of unpaid bills is not clear. None of the producers we approached for comment agreed to go on the record.
The published reality is that the five-year-old Hooq was actively licensing/commissioning until the bitter end.
In Dec last year, a little over three months before the liquidation, Hooq said it had 63 “originals”. By mid-Feb, this had risen to 75, with a target of 100 by mid-2020. So close to the deadline, the fallout of the liquidation is likely to be significant.
The 100 originals Hooq touted in Feb this year came from Indonesia, Philippines, Singapore and Thailand, “reinforcing the company’s hyper-local approach to entertainment and commitment to showcase more authentic stories made in Asia, for Asia,” Hooq said in Feb.
Now, frustration is growing with the time spent on Hooq content projects, and we understand that Singtel leadership has been approached by a group of producers to step in and help them out. Singtel has not commented on the approach.
Some feel Hooq bosses should have known that the company was in trouble and should not have continued engaging them in resource-wasting content development or acquisition discussions. Opinion is split on who knew what; Hooq staffers told Singapore daily, Business Times, at the time that they were shocked and surprised by the move.
The reality is that a few weeks before the liquidation announcement on 27 March, Hooq was announcing new deals and talking up its commitment to local content.
On 20 Feb, Hooq announced six new pilots for the third Filmmakers Guild edition. Each pilot was promised US$40,000. The six productions included three from Singapore – The Minorities, Laughter is All We Have and Progress. The other three were Scholar (Thailand), Carpioman and Dead End High from the Philippines. All six were scheduled to stream in late April, with the best performing title promised a full series.
Previous shows commissioned under Hooq’s Filmmakers Guild included Bhak (India), She’s a Terrorist and I Love Her (Singapore), Aliansi (Indonesia) and How To Be A Good Girl (Singapore).
Shes a Terrorist and I Love Her, created by Singapore comedy brand Ministry of Funny, premiered on 23 Jan this year.Brata S2 (Indonesia), Sex Talks with Dr. Holmes S2 (Philippines) and Someone (Thailand), an eight-episode short-form series produced with Benetone Films, premiered in second week February.
None of the payment schedules have been disclosed.
Hooq also entered 2020 with a lively string of licensing announcements, including a 275-hour acquisition deal from Singapore broadcaster Mediacorp. The deal was part of a broad agreement that also made Hooq available on Mediacorp’s meWatch for S$5.98/US$4.22 a month or S$26.98/US$19 a year.
Mediacorp said today that “in line with Hooq’s last day of transmission on 30 April 2020, Mediacorp has ceased carrying all Hooq content on meWatch. We have also made the appropriate refunds to our subscribers”.
At the end of February, Hooq also announced a multi-year content partnership with long-time Indonesian licensing partner, MD Entertainment, including the theatrical premiere of comedy Mekah I’m Coming on 5 March.
The MD Entertainment partnership, touted as a “first of its kind collaboration”, revolved around funding, creating and launched “a radically new hybrid format of four movies and four series”. Each involved an interconnected movie and TV series, developed and produced simultaneously. The four were scheduled for release through 2021, with a 120-day window between the theatrical and streaming releases of the movies, and exclusive distribution of the TV series within the same time frame.
The second title Mendarat Darurat, already in pre-production, was scheduled to premiere in theatres in the fourth quarter of this year. At the time, Hooq CEO Peter Bithos, called the arrangement with MD Entertainment “testament to our commitment to revolutionise the Indonesian entertainment industry together”.
“Made in Asia, for Asia, these innovative Hooq Studios productions are another milestone in our journey to bring a million stories to a billion people,” he said.
Cold comfort to those producers now looking at the hole where revenues should be, pandemic or not.