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e& sure did not wait to make its first big deal, confirming its interest to acquire 57 per cent in the streaming portal Starzplay Arabia.

Dubai: The UAE telecom giant e& (formerly Etisalat) is on a buying spree - its entertainment arm E-Vision and Abu Dhabi investment firm ADQ will acquire a majority equity stake - of around 57 per cent - in the OTT platform Starzplay Arabia. The latter was one of the first subscription-based video-on-demand platforms in the UAE and wider region.

The e&-led consortium will acquire a controlling stake based on a post-money valuation of $420 million, while also investing E-Vision’s existing stake and secondary investments to join  other existing shareholders in the OTT platform. These include STARZ and SEQ Investors. (Starz and its parent company Lionsgate will maintain commercial agreements for content licensing to the venture.)

The investment in Starzplay Arabia provides ADQ access to one of the leading subscription video-on-demand and OTT service providers in the region

- Jaap Kalkman, Group Chief Investment Officer at ADQ

The transaction remains subject to regulatory approvals and certain administrative procedures. Starzplay - among the Top 3 OTT platforms in the region - has around 2 million subscribers across 19 countries. This gives E-Vision, which was launched as the entertainment arm of the then Etisalat - an "opportunity to further strengthen its lead in content aggregation and access the fast-growth video direct-to-consumer streaming business in MENA region".

The deal provides potential for international expansion, leveraging Starzplay Arabia's reach across 20 telcos. (In recent times, Starzplay Arabia has been building up its Arabic language content.)

  1. With this investment, Starzplay Arabia can leverage media content delivered by the E-Vision and ADQ portfolio companies, further "optimising its content acquisition spending".
  2. Starzplay Arabia will also gain additional scale through immediate access to e&’s vast customer base.
  3. Under E-Vision, the company - headquartered in Abu Dhabi - can benefit from improved economies of scale and can substantially accelerate deployments across key markets in the region.

Khalifa Al Shamsi, CEO of e& life and Chairman of E-Vision, said: "This investment strengthens our service offering and significantly enhances Starzplay Arabia’s positioning across the entire MENA region."

Khalifa Al Shamsi
Khalifa Al Shamsi of E-Vision: This acquisition is a major milestone for E-Vision and will be a catalyst for the newly formed e& life consumer digital vertical in e&.

"Streaming platforms have drastically changed the way we consume media and have become commonplace in households around the world. Consumer expectations have also grown in line with this expansion as the demand for high-quality content and seamless streaming continues to rise."

Starzplay Arabia catches the eye early
It was in 2015 that Starzplay launched its services, at a time when subscription-based web streaming was still in its infancy in the UAE and Gulf. Audiences were more tuned to watching for free on YouTube or accessing pirated content. There were the premium packages offered through E-Vision and the OSN platform.

In many ways, Starzplay seeded the market and made it easier for Netflix to make a move into this market in early 2016.

The platform has "transformed the region’s entertainment sector, bringing truly homegrown competencies to serve the fast-growing demand for streaming services," said Maaz Sheikh, CEO and co-founder.

"The investment by E-Vision and ADQ will enable us to grow further by focusing on original content production and advanced customer personalisation. We thank them for their trust in our vision as well as our shareholders STARZ and SEQ Investors for originally backing our idea and enabling us to turn our start-up aspirations into a flourishing business reality."