Starz Play Arabia eyes expansion beyond MENA region

Dubai-based streaming platform Starz Play Arabia has raised additional funding, pushing its total warchest since launch to $125m, part of which it plans to use to finance expansion outside of the Middle East and North Africa.

The amount of the new funding was not disclosed but includes returning investors Starz, State Street Global Advisors, SEQ Capital Partners and Delta Partners.

In an interview, Starz Play Arabia CEO Maaz Sheikh said: “Certainly, part of the investment is going to be directed towards expansion beyond the Middle East and North Africa…we have shortlisted three or four markets that we will announce in the coming months.”

The platform is understood to be targeting territories in Eastern Europe, Africa and Southeast Asia. The additional funding will also be used to improve its content offering and customer experience. Recently the platform expanded its partnerships with Hollywood studios and introduced a download feature so that users can view shows offline.

Founded in 2015, Starz Play Arabia has around 700,000 subscribers across MENA territories, including Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, UAE, Egypt, Lebanon and Tunisia.

In many territories, Starz Play Arabia has teamed up with mobile carriers to handle billing, including Saudi Telecom in Saudi Arabia, which is the platform’s top territory, Vodafone in Egypt, Maroc Telecom in Morocco and Etisalat in the UAE.

Viewers pay $7.99 a month to watch US movies and TV series with Arabic subtitles or dubbed into French in North Africa. The most popular Western series include Power, Billions, The Walking Dead, Mr Robot and the History Channel’s Vikings. The service also carries Arabic-language content and is currently developing original Arabic shows.

Although launched before Netflix and Amazon in the Middle East, Starz Play Arabia faces competition from the two US streamers along with Kuala Lumpur-based iflix and Hong Kong-based Viu, which both launched across the region this year.

Iflix is already in investing in Arabic-language production, teaming up with Dubai-based Front Row Filmed Entertainment, Kuwait National Cinema Company (KNCC) and Cairo-based Shadows Communications to produce Egyptian comedy series Tough Luck.

Speaking at the Dubai International Film Festival in 2015, Netflix said it wanted to produce a scripted show set in the Middle East, but this has yet to happen.