Video: ‘We’re more of an e-commerce firm than an entertainment one’ – Starzplay CEO
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Video: ‘We’re more of an e-commerce firm than an entertainment one’ – Starzplay CEO

Video: ‘We’re more of an e-commerce firm than an entertainment one’ – Starzplay CEO

Maaz Sheikh on how the online streaming service has grown its reach in the MENA region

Maaz Sheikh, CEO of online streaming service Starzplay, is a legend within the startup ecosystem. Despite facing competition from juggernauts such as Netflix and OSN, the Dubai-based startup recently secured $25m (Dhs92m) in debt financing to further strengthen its hold within the region’s entertainment landscape. Starzplay plans on using the funds to create original Arabic language content, which Sheikh says is the secret to longevity and relevance in the region. “We need to expand into Arabic and when we expand into Arabic, it’s a fairly competitive landscape. The opportunity is definitely there, but the execution elements are still difficult, as it’s not easy to create that differentiated content.”

While he has his sights set on the future success of serialised Arabic content, a surprising fact is that Sheikh no longer considers Starzplay as purely an entertainment company, but rather an e-commerce one. An unexpected revelation for a company whose very foundation is entertainment.

“One of the big mistakes we made was underestimating the complexity of digital marketing and the e-commerce journey; we thought we knew how this business is run, but the reality is we are much more of an e-commerce company, than we are entertainment. We transformed ourselves into an e-commerce player,” he says.

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But why? The answer is simple: With credit card penetration being a challenge in the region and online payments not being accessible to the masses, Starzplay was unable to capture the market.

The solution? Starzplay entered into strategic partnerships with telecom operators to enable customers to pay via their prepaid and postpaid mobile plans. The move allowed Starzplay to reach mass audiences across the MENA region, where not all subscribers have access to credit cards.

Sheikh admits that while they are number one within the region with over 1.8 million subscribers, their top-of-mind awareness is still lower than Netflix. But if Sheikh’s passion, drive and disruptive spirit are anything to go by, I would not be remiss in saying “watch this space”, as he continues to change the rules of the game.

Zaib Shadani is the MD of Shadani Consulting and host of “The Comms Room” show

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