American streaming service Starz Play launched in the Middle East last month, offering a raft of Hollywood premium content to regional customers. BroadcastPro ME speaks to Starz Play Arabia’s President and COO, Maaz Sheikh, to find out what Starz Play brings to the region As the regional OTT market continues to evolve, several local and […]
American streaming service Starz Play launched in the Middle East last month, offering a raft of Hollywood premium content to regional customers. BroadcastPro ME speaks to Starz Play Arabia’s President and COO, Maaz Sheikh, to find out what Starz Play brings to the region
As the regional OTT market continues to evolve, several local and international players are looking at the MENA region as a high-growth territory, with huge potential for monetising content on the go. Last month saw the launch of a new VOD service in the Middle East Starz Play, a premium online video service offering Hollywood blockbuster movies and TV series exclusively and immediately after they premiere in the US, in addition to a full library of recent TV series, movies and childrens content.
The service marks Starz first foray outside the United States, where it has more than 57 million subscribers across its STARZ and ENCORE pay TV services. Maaz Sheikh, heads the regions operations as COO and President. Sheikh feels the MENA region is ready for greater OTT engagement, and adds that Starz Play, as a service, doesnt have direct competition in the region.
We dont see any of the existing services in the region as competition, because we are defining a new category. We are purely a streaming service focused on premium Hollywood content. We dont offer DTH or carry linear channels; our expertise lies in VOD on connected devices. It goes without saying that new technology improves customer experience. I am confident that several different services can coexist in the region, just as they do in other, more mature markets, he says, explaining that the key requirements for OTT video uptake are available in the region.
The growth rate for broadband in the region is among the highest in the world, which is an important driver of this trend.
The broadband connection in the region is fairly strong, also there is a high concentration of tablets and smartphones. Then the behaviour and demand for content is there. Add to that a tech-savvy population. All of these factors are conducive to the growth of OTT opportunities. I am confident that if you offer compelling content with a good quality of experience, its bound to be a success.
This region in its consumption pattern is fragmented because it is very diverse, but Hollywood has universal appeal, notes Sheikh.
A question typically asked by skeptics is whether consumers will subscribe to streaming services when content can be downloaded for free. Digital piracy is a problem all over the world, and the Middle East is no exception. Despite rampant digital piracy in the Nordic markets, legal streaming services are doing well there. Figures show that widespread BitTorrent addiction has not deterred the growth of legal platforms. Netflix is a successful model that has experienced relentless growth despite various challenges in the digital realm international paid subscribers totalled 16.8 million at the end of 2014, and the company announced earlier this year that it will increase its presence around the world, seeking to operate in 200 countries by the end of 2016 (Netflix is currently in over 50 countries). Although its international division also admitted to incurring losses of $159.8 million last year.
One cannot overrule the problem that piracy poses and we cant possibly convert everyone to use our service. But there is a segment in the market, a large one at that, who is willing to pay for quality of experience. Watching illegally downloaded content is not a great experience with all the malware popping up. You wouldnt want your children to be exposed to unwanted content. The quality of videos is also not necessarily good, explains Sheikh.
Starz is looking at its first year in the region as a time of learning from customer experience and feedback. Its content has universal appeal, according to Sheikh, who adds that Starz will optimise the service for smaller segments of the market in due course.
The streaming service aims to build a critical mass by creating awareness of legal streaming in the region. Regulations applying to subscription VOD will apply to Starz as well. Starz already has the Middle East rights to content from several Hollywood studios, including Disney, Paramount, Sony, Warner Bros and CBS.
The rights are negotiated on a market by market basis. We have rights that we have optimised and acquired for this region, and the content is curated and selected based on this regions requirement. Our differentiation is on the programming front and all of it is in HD. Shows from Showtime, a major studio in the US, are showcased exclusively on Starz at the same time as the US.
According to research from TDG TV Gets Personal Trends in Mobile Video Viewing, 2015-2025 mobile video viewing on smartphones and tablets will experience strong growth over the next decade (2015-2025), taking share from both legacy TV and PC-based broadband video viewing. Figures show that more viewers are consuming content on their mobile now, and mobile consumption is higher than on other connected devices. People are increasingly watching long-form videos on their mobile devices.
The reason for this behaviour is the same as the success of the mobile phone vis-à-vis the landline. Mobile took off because its a personal phone and not a family phone. Similarly, for content consumption, mobile offers a personalised experience. We are looking at Saudi Arabia as a particularly lucrative market for content over 4G networks, Sheikh explains.
The technology to stream content to different devices and networks is designed in such a way that it is optimised according to the device and network. While the platform is the same for each device, the image is optimised to the specifications of each device. The Starz service was designed from the ground up at the companys Madrid office in Spain to cater to the Middle East and other international markets, where the service will be expanding in the future. Technology wise the platform is different from the platform launched in the US, since the Middle East model caters to both English- as well as Arabic-speaking audiences.
Different demographic groups view content differently, but Hollywood content appeals to audiences across the board. Considering the region we are in, Arabic content will be the next logical step for us, says Sheikh.
For now, the service comes in dual language mode, with the choice to switch between languages. While kids content is dubbed and subtitled, all of the content for adults is subtitled in Arabic.
Starz also caters to the changing viewing habits of the audience by offering the entire box set of series, points out Sheikh.
Our exclusive series Bloodline was launched at the same time as its release on Netflix in the US. People dont watch episodic content anymore, binge viewing is common behaviour now, he says.
According to Sheikh, the combination of quality HD content, the language option and a raft of exclusive shows makes Starz a compelling value proposition. The pay movies on the platform are released 12-18 months after their theatrical release, following which they go on to free-to-air platforms and subsquently to the library.