STARZPLAY, the leading subscription video on demand (SVOD) service in the MENA region, reported a robust and durable growth of 141 percent in the number of unique users during April 2020, In a recent exclusive interview with The Times Kuwait, Maaz Sheikh, Co-founder and CEO of STARZPLAY shares detailed information on STARZPLAY’s journey, their diverse content, partnerships and future plans for Kuwait.
Could you brief us about your company’s mission and vision?
STARZPLAY is a subscription video on demand (SVOD) service that streams Hollywood movies, TV shows, documentaries, kids’ entertainment, US series plus dedicated Arabic content to 20 countries across the Middle East, North Africa and Pakistan.
STARZPLAY is a compelling example from the MENA region of a home-grown business that has disrupted the entertainment landscape and evolved as leading player in the SVOD space. With US$125 million funding, we’ve achieved significant year-on-year growth since we launched back in 2015, now reaching 1.8 million paying subscribers and installed on more than six million devices. Today, we are a joint leader with 32 per cent market share in the region, according to the IHS ‘Pay TV & Online Video Report – MENA – 2019’.
Our goal has been to offer content that people really want to watch, and we continue to invest in world-class content that is curated based on research on audience preferences and consumption habits. We believe that content is king and invest substantially in ensuring we have the right partners to deliver the best and most exclusive content to our consumers.
We aim to be the platform of choice both for our subscribers as well as partners and focus on three main areas to ensure that we differentiate our offering and achieve phenomenal growth: content, distribution and payment options.
We’ve built valuable relationships with 21 telcos across the region offering subscription via prepaid and post-paid mobile to our subscribers. This assures payment without the need of a credit card in a region where credit card penetration is relatively low.
Additionally, our strength lies on studio relationships, and the diversity of readily available content, which allows us to carry and huge breadth of movies and TV shows from multiple Hollywood studios. We will continue to strengthen our relationship with leading studios to offer relevant and compelling entertainment choices for our subscribers.
We also focus on increasing shareholder value by securing profitability and continued growth in MENA and further afield. We are keen on taking our knowledge and experience and putting it to use in similar emerging markets, including Sub-Saharan and Francophone Africa. Saudi Arabia remains a huge growth market with obvious potential in terms of its demographics and scale.
What distinguishes STARZPLAY from other players?
We focus on three main areas to differentiate our offering and achieve consistent growth: content, distribution and payment options. Our platform has a wide range of premium titles, carefully curated content based on market research and customer preferences.
With our tech-first mindset and advanced data analytics, we predict subscriber trends in this region ahead of competitors; for example, we were the first in the region to offer viewers the highly-popular global series Friends. We have also successfully built valuable relationships with 21 telecom operators across the region offering subscription via prepaid and post-paid mobile to our subscribers. This allows ease of use and payment without the need for a debit or credit card, which is a significant strengthen given the low levels of card penetration in some markets in MENA.
Additionally, our strength is our studio relationships, and the diversity of readily available content, which allows a diverse breadth of movies and TV shows from multiple Hollywood studios. While some of our competitors are more focused on their original content, we continue to be the preferred partner for all the leading Hollywood and premium regional studios.
You recently launched a study on the viewership trends during COVID-19. Could you elaborate more and share the top findings of the survey?
Let me give you background to the study: The pandemic had disrupted how we work and live, with lockdowns and work-from-home influencing how people consume entertainment too.
In this fast-changing landscape, we decided to explore how the current situation impacted the SVOD industry through a dedicated study. We provided exclusive access to PSB, a global research agency, to our data for an in-depth analysis. Based on the data analytics, we prepared a white paper.
The study, titled , ‘The Rise and Rise of Streaming Video in the MENA Market’ covered SVOD trends over a period from January 2019 to May 2020, in two key phases – the COVID-19 situation that led to lockdowns, as well as Ramadan, when home-entertainment typically spikes in the region.
In key findings, the study reported that we had recorded strong and sustained growth in the number of unique users from 2019, peaking at 141% in April 2020 during the height of the COVID-19 situation.
Further, compared to March 2019, the number of STARZPLAY app installs in March 2020 increased by 328% and in April 2020 by 486%. In addition, content consumption in March 2020 increased by 230% over the same period in 2019 and in April 2020 by 340%.
We also saw a significant increase in the number of total hours – by more than 20%, while year-on-year growth was over 10% in May 2020 compared to May 2019. The popularity of STARZPLAY among the region’s unique users – including in the GCC – is also highlighted by the increase in the number of hours per user, from 11.83 hours in January 2019 to 18.06 hours in May 2020 – a consistent increase.
In Kuwait, our user based doubled over the period of the study with the country trending in a major way during the height of the pandemic. Kuwait also saw a strong growth in the number of hours per user by 30 per cent during Ramadan 2020 over the same period in 2019. The number of hours per unique user increased from 12.59 in Jan. 19 to 18.05 in March 2020 and 22.16 hours in May.
The study also found that Kuwaitis continue to watch our content on TV, with nearly 43% of users preferring to watch STARZPLAY content on their televisions while 50% watch on mobiles and the rest on PCs.
The top 10 findings from the study on ‘The Rise and Rise of Streaming Video in the MENA Market’ are:
SVOD in the New Reality
- STARZPLAY recorded strong and sustained growth in the number of unique users from 2019, peaking at 141 per cent during COVID-19
- Subscribers consumed more content during COVID-19, with an increase of 50 per cent in streaming hours per unique user
- English-language series was most popular during COVID-19 among STARZPLAY subscribers; action, comedy and drama are top 3 popular genres
SVOD Growth Trends during Ramadan
Streaming levels in Ramadan 2020 spiked with total consumption tripling over 2019. More STARZPLAY subscribers binged on comedy content during Ramadan 2020
Overall Content & Consumption Trends
- Arabic content is growing in popularity, doubling its share of total hours consumed across STARZPLAY users in MENA; five times more Arabic content was streamed during COVID-19 months than at start of the year
- STARZPLAY now offers more balanced portfolio of genres
- While watching STARZPLAY content on mobile phones is growing, TV is a preferred platform for its users
- STARZPLAY is a primetime player in TV entertainment with bulk of viewing taking place during evening and night
- STARZPLAY’s top market Saudi Arabia outpaced the average growth in hours per user; UAE emerged as top growth market in the region nearly doubling both hours and unique users
What are the most watched shows?
Our differentiator is how we study content consumption patterns and preferences. In fact, as part of the study above, we evaluated user preferences, which enables us to better serve customers, especially in terms of tailoring content as per their consumption patterns.
Today, we offer a more balanced portfolio of genres, and we have seen that exclusive shows such as The Big Bang Theory, Vikings, Baghdad Central and Power amongst others attract more viewership. We have also seen a growing appetite for DC content in the region, especially boxsets. The latest additions to our DC portfolio are doing exceptionally well. As per our recent viewership analysis 42% of our viewers are binging on DC shows. The Flash tops the binge-watching chart with 62% of STARZPLAY’s DC fans watching and completing the full boxsets. The show featuring DC’s fastest man alive is also amongst the most-watched series in MENA with 26.7% of STARZPLAY’s monthly active users addicted to the action-packed superhero series. DC fans in Kuwait seem to love the crime-scene investigator the most with 38.1% of STARZPLAY’s Kuwaiti monthly active users watching the show.
We have also seen an increase in our subscribers binge-watching exclusive shows on the platform and our top three most viewed shows are be Vikings, Power and The Big Bang Theory. On Arabic side, shows like Raheem, Tayea and Kingdom of Fire have done exceedingly well.
What is the pattern of viewing during COVID-19 across GCC and Kuwait? Do you think it will change post-COVID?
In overall content and consumption trends, STARZPLAY reinforced its position as a primetime player in entertainment with bulk of viewing taking place during evening and night across the region.
English-language series was most popular during COVID-19 among our subscribers with action, comedy and drama were considered the top three popular genres. Though English content remains the dominant choice, Arabic content doubled its share of total consumption reaching a peak in the early stages of the pandemic.
On average, the hours streamed in Arabic has increased from just about 5% in January 2019 to about 10% in January 2020 and five times more Arabic content was streamed during COVID-19 months than at the start of the year. In Kuwait our subscribers binge watched shows like Al Dakheel and Awalem Khafeyah that helped swell the numbers.
The Kuwait market is no different. We saw explosive growth during COVID-19 with new subscriptions increasing each month of the lockdown. Overall, subscribers consumed more content during COVID-19, with an increase of 50% in streaming hours per unique user.
Did subscription increase during the last 6 months, if so, by how much?
As mentioned, we recorded strong and sustained growth in the number of unique users from 2019, peaking at 141% during COVID-19. In terms of content, subscribers consumed more content during COVID-19, with an increase of 50% in streaming hours per unique user. Both carryover and new subscribers showed steady growth during COVID-19. Overall, STARZPLAY grew its user base by over 40% during 2019.
What about STARZPLAY’s partnerships in Kuwait?
We have partnered with Zain, Ooredoo and Viva in Kuwait, the three leaders in mobile communications and data services, to offer even easier payment options for existing and would-be subscribers. We plan to accelerate customer acquisition through Mobile Payment integration.
Mobile payment is a critical success factor for reaching mass audiences across MENA markets, where not all would-be-subscribers have access to a credit card – especially those younger demographics who prefer to consume their content on demand. Making payments through local telecom operators as part of their standard prepaid or post-paid bills is quick and convenient and means they can watch STARZPLAY’s killer content straight from their phone, or at home via smart TV or games console.
We are continuously in discussion with existing and potential partners for enhancing our subscriber experiences and look forward to rolling out new announcements in the future.
Any new shows to be added in the coming months?
Unbeatable line-up awaits viewers this month including new exclusive series, festive titles and binge-able premium entertainment that will surely fit everyone’s interest such as Your Honor starring Bryan Cranston, Power Book II: Ghost, Season 1, Penny Dreadful : City of Angels, exclusive series like Harley Quinn and all time bingeable shows like Two and a half men, Fraiser, Everybody Loves Raymond in addition to a franchise of premium entertainment on the platform that includes The Gofather Triology, Mission Impossible (all parts), Transformers (all parts), The Dark Knight Triology, The Lord of The Rings Triology, Jack Reacher (all parts) as well as the Star Trek franchise. Viewers can also enjoy a series of holiday movies on STARZPLAY including Christmas matchmakers, The Santa Claus, Staging Christmas, A Christmas Carol amongst others.
On Arabic content front, we will be adding an amazing line-up of Arabic content including shows like Halawat Duniya, Hajar Jahanam, Talat Rohee, La Tatfa Alshams and Grand Hotel.
What are your expectations from the market?
Even with full social and work activity resuming, we see streaming numbers almost 2.5 to 2.75 times now compared to January. Average daily consumption per user is at a solid 110 minutes (as against 35 minutes in January), which could be the current average for the industry in the UAE/Gulf markets.
The future of SVOD industry is robust, and we are certain that we will continue to entertain our fan base in the MENA region with local as well as international content. According to industry reports, video streaming will make up 80 per cent of internet traffic by the year 2022.
Today, the combination of internet, smartphones and streaming technologies is triggering the shift from linear to OTT platforms, more so now with the current situation. Secondly, millennials and youth are shifting towards online streaming and that’s where the future market is. Perhaps, the key driving factor for us is that youth form the largest demographic of the region.