The sad story of icflix, one of the earliest streaming services in MENA

In 2018, icflix.com website was taken off the internet. The Company went bankrupt mainly because of its CEO.

Negative reviews on Glassdoor.com tell the real story:

“- CEO is a big fan of public humiliation – CEO is promising a lot, without results (Shares) – deprecated technologies (Elasticsearch 1, Ruby 1.8, Java 6, Debian 6 and 7) – Terrible Codebase – Impossibility to introduce cutting-edge technology due to the code inheritance – All top management are the CEO’s family – therefore they are never wrong even if they can’t do their job properly, but you are. – Didn’t pay my end of service, it seems to be a standard at icflix…”

This post was first published in 2014. It started with:

In the early days of online streaming in the Middle East, the viewer had icflix. (Wikipedia link)

icflix

Netflix may be the most famous example for such Video-On-Demand (VoD) / media streaming service.

Problem is, in the early days, Netflix catered mainly for North and South America, and some parts of Europe. (Unlike now!)

What can other viewers outside those regions do then?

They looked for local alternatives, who have so far done a good job in entertaining their subscribers. (Of course they can also opt to use proxy servers to make such services believe they are coming from allowed regions, but those providers are cracking down on such services and banning them!)

Enter the Middle East, where internet connections are not that reliable, and download speeds are still a concern. To say the Middle Eastern VoD market is challenging is an understatement, yet some pioneers have managed to leave their marks. Among those comes icflix [pronounced i-see-flix], a company based in UAE with an increasing number of branches coming out in North Africa, US, and Europe.

Inception

icflix media was established in Dubai in 2012 as the region’s first online streaming media platform. It was founded by the duo: Carlos Tibi and Fadi Mehio. A Lebanese and a Palestinian / Canadian who both worked before in big companies and know the region well, or so they thought in the beginning.

icflix-carlos

Carlos Tibi, co-founder of icflix

Icflix provides online Hollywood, Bollywood, and some Arabic content (movies, music, TV series, dramas, cartoons, sports and documentaries) as well as some exclusive content that can be streamed online.

Early investments

By launch time (July 2013 / Ramadan time), $40 Million have been invested in icflix.

The initial monthly subscription fee was at $11.99 but later on that came down to $7.99 per month, which proved to be the price that market is willing to pay each month.

Yes, you can’t watch Game of Thrones on icflix, but you have Vikings.

The last season of Walking Dead is not available at the moment, but this is about to change.

Uncharted waters

icflix is trying to compete in an uncharted territory.

In their early days, they believed 70-80% of viewers in the Gulf region would buy using credit cards.

But only 15% of users actually did so.

They thought only younger audience will use their services.

But their older audience proved not to be a small percentage.

New content for them was needed more than planned.

They also had to digitize majority of the Arabic content they licensed, and they had to look for swearing, nudity or politically inappropriate content to rule it out.

That also called for restricting some content in some countries due to censorship rules that must be followed else the whole service may be banned easily.

Ease of subscribing

icflix thought that users would accept the fact that they needed to use their PCs, Macs, tablets, mobile phones, etc to watch the content they want.

But icflix discovered that the majority wanted to watch their favorite movie or series on their TV screens. (Oh the earlu days when TVs were just dumb and not smart!)

That prompted icflix to look for partners to make this wish come true.

Plans were underway for partnerships with set-top boxes OEM manufacturers.

Same deals were happening with Telecom providers, like DU in UAE and neighboring countries.

That made paying for monthly subscriptions easier. Users were able to pay for icflix subscription with their land-line / mobile phone bill, without the need for a credit card.

They also enjoy of one-month free subscription to encourage users to try the service without any risks and opt out if they were not happy with it.

Arabia speaks many languages, not one!

The current belief is that majority of Arabian countries speaks English and Arabic, but that is not true. icflix discovered that other languages rule Arabia as well. You have regions that demand French and some Spanish even. Localizing the content for those demographics was another challenge to say the least.