5:00 with Maaz Sheikh

Maaz Sheikh, CEO of Starz Play, discusses the company's development and recent fundraising
Maaz Sheikh
Maaz Sheikh

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DS: Tell me about the funding announcement and the background to it.

We launched our service in April 2015 so this is almost like a two year anniversary for us. Until now we have announced that Starz is one of the investors behind this venture. Earlier in the year we announced that Delta Partners and SEQ Capital Partners had come in as investors as well, but we never announced the funding amount. As we closed our last round of funding we felt it was important that we talk publicly about the total amount that we have raised, just to establish credibility with our partners and more importantly to talk about our expansion plans beyond MENA.

DS: What will the funds be used for?

The investment will be used for geographic expansion, content and more product enhancements. Recently we launched the offline viewing function, so almost all of our content now can be downloaded and watched offline. That is a very popular feature across MENA. We have also recently launched a new release of our recommendation engine.

We are definitely looking to expand the programming offer. When we first launched two years ago we had about 3000 hours of content, and only Hollywood, and now we have over 6,500 hours of content that includes Arabic as well as French for our North Africa segment. We started working with four major studios and now we work with all seven studios. We have also expanded telecom partnerships in North Africa.

DS: How is Arabic content performing on the platform?

Arabic content performs well on our platform and beauty about the digital world is we can get a lot of data, interact with a lot of customers and get a lot of feedback on the service very quickly. The consumption and engagement is very high on Arabic content. We also receive clear feedback that if customers are going to pay for a service, they want something different; they want something unique. It’s about unravelling that puzzle to devise the edgy product that you will offer them and to create an offering that is not available on free-to-air. Some of our Starz originals like ‘Power’, or ‘Billions’ from Showtime perform extremely well, so it’s finding that ‘Power’ or ‘Billions’ of the Arabic world.

Original content can be a very risky bet and one has to do it the right way. Especially when it comes to Arabic content there is no playbook in the market. One data point we do see repeatedly is that the segment we are targeting is really a YouTube and a streaming generation. They don’t relate to the linear model, so it’s finding that right product that will connect with this generation. 80% of our customers are under 34 and a big chunk of them are in that 18-24 bracket. This generation is not tuned into the linear world.

DS: When will you start local production?

The goal is to start by the end of this year and we will make some announcements by the end of the year. We’re going to start with one series and build from there hopefully.

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