US-based online video streaming service Starz has launched operations in the MENA region, and will offer users ad-free Hollywood movies and TV series, it was announced on Wednesday.
The new service, Starz Play, has been developed exclusively for the region, and begins with a bank of 3,000 movies and TV series episodes. It will charge users $13.99 (Dhs50) per month, with a 30-day free trial.
The platform is available on PCs and Macs, iOS and Android systems, with up to five devices registered per subscription, offering the ability to watch on any two at the same time.
There are no monthly contractual obligations and consumers can cancel and renew the subscription whenever they want, according to Maaz Sheikh, president, Starz Play.
“We think there’s huge demand for this kind of a service in the MENA region,” he said.
“This region offers very strong broadband infrastructure and smartphone and tablet penetration. This type of a service, at an affordable price-point, has been lacking.
“Our content is completely ad-free and full HD quality, it’s available at any given point in time and you can stream it on any device – all of which offers a strong value proposition,” he said.
This is the first time a Starz-branded service has been launched outside of the United States, and the Middle East was chosen because of its growing consumption of digital content, he added.
While the service is currently focused on Hollywood content to cater to a wider audience, Sheikh confirmed that there are plans to launch Arabic content in the future. Sports-related content is not in the pipeline.
The region already has an online video streaming service, icflix, which showcases Arabic content, Bollywood and Hollywood movies, TV series, cartoons and documentaries.
But Sheikh, who previously worked with OSN, says that the selection of programming makes all the difference for an operator to stand out in the market.
Along with Starz original series’, such as Black Sails and Power, the platform will have content licensed from 12 studios including CBS/Showtime, Disney, Lionsgate, MGM, Paramount, Shine, Sony, and Warner Bros.
The latest blockbusters will be available as soon as they launched for sale in the US, asserted Sheikh.
“We think if the programming offer is compelling, if the technology and user experience is good, then at this price–point, we should be very successful,” he said.
Sheikh does admit that VPN poses a challenge, since most consumers in the GCC illegally stream and download movies and TV series for free online.
“This type of a service does not eliminate piracy or the illegal downloading of movies. And that’s not an issue just in this region, it’s a global phenomenon,” he said.
“So you might be downloading a movie for your children, but when you step away, porn ads may come up on the screen [when you are using VPN]. So our service offers convenient and secure access to quality content.
“Also our pricing is such that the consumer doesn’t think much of it – it’s affordable.”
While US-based Starz, its parent company, currently has over 57 million subscribers, Sheikh says there are no fixed targets at present.
“We are waiting for customer feedback and will then plan how to move ahead.”
Starz Play is presently debuting in 17 MENA countries including the six GCC states, Algeria, Djibouti, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Palestine, and Tunisia.