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The Abu Dhabi blue-chip duo e& and ADQ have 57% in Starzplay Arabia. The deal delivers some big audiences, content and distribution channels for the OTT portal. Image Credit: AFP

Dubai: Netflix may not subscribe to this (at least to date), but there are many who would want their movies and TV shows mixed with the right amounts of their favorite sports delivered live.

The OTT platform Starzplay Arabia – now owned by Abu Dhabi blue-chips e& and ADQ – reckon it’s got the mix just right. Along with the Vikings and The Big Bang Theory, it is serving up the latest edition of the Indian premier League, India’s domestic T20 tournament and with a committed fan base to go with it. Then, there’s the Italian Serie A if football is what subscribers are interested in.

Sports is indeed showing up more frequently on video-on-demand platforms. For Maaz Sheikh, CEO and co-founder of Starzplay Arabia, this a made to order formula for OTT success.

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“There’s been a 20 times spike in in the number of concurrent users watching our IPL cricket service,” said Sheikh. “Leading up to the first match of IPL 2023 we had a near 10x increase in new sign-ups. The previous cricket event that proved quite successful for us was the Pakistan Super League.

“(Live sports streaming) has been an extremely successful business case for us. That’s the bottom-line. As long as a business case is there, we will look for more sporting events. That’s what the partnership with e&’s evision services (the TV platform) will also provide us – more sporting events’ access.

Maaz Sheikh
"We’ve invested in NBA and that continues to be quite popular," said Maaz Sheikh. "It’s the same with UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship), which continues to be extremely popular in the region." Image Credit: Gulf News Archive

Sports can deliver, potentially, a more committed subscriber base. Give them the movies, the TV shows and sports, and you get subscribers sticking around for longer, so goes the thinking.

Opens up a whole lot of audiences

Post the deal with e&, which was struck early 2022, Starzplay Arabia, which launched in region in 2015 and just ahead of Netflix, has its own part to play. Through evision, the OTT platform’s reach extends to more markets, more audiences and more platforms, which is cable TV.

“evision is UAE’s largest cable networks and one of the largest paid television networks,” said Sheikh. “So, having access to evision’s economies of scale is one big benefit from the e& deal - the other obviously is help with more resources.

“That includes capital, content and distribution resources. Having much more of resources at our disposal is perhaps the one ways the business has improved for us after the deal.”

Not so keen on e-gaming

While live action sports is what Sheikh has in mind for Starzplay Arabia, he is not that keen on eports, which has one of the biggest followings in the UAE, Saudi Arabia and other Middle East markets.

“I don’t see us going into that anytime soon, partly because no one has figured out how to deliver games inside an OTT experience. Sure, OTT providers do offer gaming - but you leave that OTT app and go into another gaming environment.

“Then the question for the OTT platform becomes: ‘What is your value-add as a provider?’. I don’t think we are going to expand into providing actual gaming anytime soon.”

All about audiences

OTT industry sources talk about 2023 being another growth market as the reasons audiences engage with these platforms widen. A subscriber could sign up for the latest season of ‘Succession’ or ‘Better Call Saul’, the Shah Rukh Khan all-time blockbuster ‘Pathaan’, or a long-running Korean drama. Or the reason could be to spend evenings with the latest six hits at an IPL or PSL game. Name your pick – and the subscriber will be there.

“The big learning for us has been building one product that’s going to work from, say, Muscat to Marrakesh is challenging,” said Sheikh. “What we realize is we have to have content that caters to each of the segments.

“While our original Arabic content does not appeal to the Indian expat, the IPL does. The Turkish dramas do not work across all Arabic segments, but they appeal to certain Arab families and continue to be successful. Same with anime.

“What we realize is we really have to cater to each segment if we if we are going to be a successful business across audiences.”

This is where cricket and that e& connection will help.