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Predictions 2018: Starz Play CEO Maaz Sheikh

Predictions 2018: Starz Play CEO Maaz Sheikh

The video streaming service is seeing major growth

As we close the door on a tremendously successful year, it’s extremely humbling to see how far we have come since our early start-up days. We launched in 2015 with ambitious intentions to challenge global giants such as Netflix and Amazon, and have since differentiated ourselves to become the region’s leading subscription video on-demand service, delivering Hollywood, Bollywood, Arabic and kids content to 19 countries across the Middle East and North Africa.

Our evolution has been rapid, but whilst the drive to improve is a daily challenge, it’s one we’ve faced head-on. During 2017 we’ve delivered an on-going rollout of new content and product features, plus an improved user interface. Perhaps our most defining moment of the year came when we secured $125m in second round funding from Starz, SSGA, SEQ Capital and Delta Partners.

Our progress is underlined by the fact our subscriber base has doubled every six months, a feat unheard of in our industry – and almost certainly influenced by our introduction of in-app payments. We have also tripled our content consumption per user – in simple terms this means that our subscribers now spend more time watching. We credit this milestone to product additions such as the temporary download feature and our recommendation engine – a tool that makes content suggestions to our subscribers based on their viewing habits. Another huge success has been increasing our presence across various viewing platforms via pioneering partnerships with iOS, Apple TV, as well as Samsung and LG smart TVs. As of November 2017, our apps have been downloaded more than 2.5 million times.

Read: Interview: Starz Play’s CEO on seeking new revenue streams

This has also been a landmark year for content on Starz Play. Not only did we sign an exclusive deal with A+E to acquire History’s Knightfall – a much-hyped historical drama from the producers of Vikings – but we also acquired the rights to Britannia, an epic drama that has also been pre-sold to Amazon US and HBO Europe.

Each of these individual milestones is worthy of celebration, but collectively these achievements are the masts that carry the sails of our geographical expansion. We currently operate in 19 MENA countries but during 2017 we confirmed our intention to expand to neighbouring markets within the coming year.

Finally, we recently received a huge honour by being showcased as one of the ‘Best Apps of 2017’ by Apple’s App store. This is a huge coup for us and recognises the hard work our team has put into ensuring our app delivers a world class experience. We’ve also been bestowed with four prestigious awards including the coveted Middle East Entrepreneurial Company of the Year Award in OTT Video Services Market at the Frost & Sullivan Excellence in Best Practice Awards Banquet.

Thanks to GDP growth, more smartphone users, increased internet penetration and other emerging digital phenomena, the regional SVOD market has grown significantly during 2017 – a trend we are expecting to continue to until 2021 at least.

One of the biggest changes we have seen in 2017 is the on-going shift from traditional TV-watching to online streaming, which continues to pick up speed. Some of the more-established media broadcasters find this changing consumer behaviour a challenge; as a start-up we consider this ‘disruption’ a blessing as our audience further embraces social media and e-commerce – and, of course, SVOD services – in MENA.

We also know that consumers across the region are increasingly investing in broadband and mobile services, so our strategy is focused on working with telecoms providers to offer value-added services like no other to gain further traction as we enter 2018.

With streaming video on demand now the number one viewing medium for entertainment fans the world over – and commonplace in everyday family homes – the future of SVOD is certain. However, we need to remain proactive, which is why we continue to invest in and adopt new technologies – such as our new download feature that allows offline viewing. We also prioritise continuous investment in data science to refine both our product and our content. We use an array of marketing tools to generate detailed analytics that provide insights into how consumers use our platform. This allows us to constantly tweak aspects of our service to increase traffic, target demographics, improve rankings, enhance usability, uplift conversions and more – all helping us to stay one step ahead of the game.

As an industry that is constantly evolving and changing with the times, it’s vital we recognise the importance of continuous innovation throughout 2018. If we want to stay ahead of the competition, this is the one area where we cannot compromise.

In addition to establishing partnerships with major telecommunications operators including Etisalat, du, Orange Jordan and Orange Morocco in 2017, we leveraged associations with consumer and lifestyle brands such M&Ms and UberEATS to engage new subscribers. There will be plenty more of this type of promotional activity in 2018, and we hope to increase our engagement with other like-minded brands through social media and influencers.

Of course, product refinement is an on-going process and in 2018 we will continue to utilize advanced technologies to ensure our subscribers enjoy a smooth and seamless viewing experience. We’re also expecting to bring our app to even more big screens by supporting a wider range of TV brands.

We are still very early on in our journey, and are extremely aware of the fact we have huge global competitors looking to knock us off the regional top spot. However, our recent round of funding has provided us with even more ammunition to excel in 2018. The new investment will enable us to increase our library content, introduce new movies and same-time-as-the-US TV shows, and perhaps even look into producing local projects of our own. Finally, further expansion is also on the cards and it’s now no secret that Pakistan is set to be our next port of call.

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