Khalifa Al Shamsi, CEO, e& life
Khalifa Al Shamsi, CEO, e& life, says 2023 has been a tremendously successful year for the company. Image Credit: Supplied

The year 2023 proved to be one of immense progress for both the UAE and the organisations within the country. Various industries, including technology, infrastructure, healthcare, and education, underwent numerous developments, cementing the reputation of the UAE as a dynamic economy and global innovation hub.

Against the backdrop of a rapidly evolving digital nation, the past year was also eventful for e& life – the business pillar of e&, characterised by strategic decisions and groundbreaking initiatives that underscored its commitment to enriching people's digital lives.

"The past year has been a tremendously successful one for e& life as we executed our strategic priorities to strengthen our technology leadership and become the foremost digital services provider in the region," says Khalifa Al Shamsi, CEO of e& life.

"At e& life, our mission is to bring ease and simplicity to our customers' lives, empowering them to reap the rewards of the digital world. Through our advanced platforms, we deliver various services, spanning entertainment applications, retail, remote services, and financial technology. We're dedicated to enriching the lives of our users, bringing them both entertainment and utility," he adds.

Reshaping convenience: Careem Everything App acquisition

A major highlight over the past year was e&'s successful acquisition of the Careem Everything App. The platform consolidates an array of essential services, from food and package deliveries to grocery shopping, all integrated with Careem Pay for digital transactions.

"Bringing Careem into the e& family consolidates market-leading services like micro mobility, food delivery, digital wallets, and other home services under one platform. This creates an unrivalled breadth of offerings and regional scale to compete as a true super app," says Al Shamsi.

According to Al Shamsi, the inclusion of high-demand services such as food delivery, the Careem Everything App not only broadens e& life's customer reach throughout the UAE and the Middle East but also cements its position as a one-stop shop for various daily needs.

"By harnessing the expansive reach of Careem in the region while tapping into e& life's strengths in fintech, media, and distribution, we are poised to unlock a multitude of synergies and growth prospects in the Middle East and beyond. The smooth integration of the app into the broader e& life ecosystem underscores our unwavering dedication to elevating user convenience, delivering an all-encompassing digital journey, and fortifying e& life's role as a leader in the rapidly evolving digital services landscape,” explains Al Shamsi.

The acquisition aligns with e&'s overarching strategic objective to broaden its range of consumer digital products and accelerate its transformation into a global technology and investment conglomerate. It provides e& with entry into diverse digital sectors, cutting-edge digital services, access to a talented workforce, and entry into new geographical markets. e& plans to leverage the potential of the Careem Super App to amplify the growth of its consumer digital services, with a particular focus on expanding e& life's fintech subsidiary, e& money. This strategic step holds a vital role in realising the vision of the super app by delivering the robust financial services offered by e& money.

Redefining financial excellence: e& money milestones

The UAE has emerged as a formidable force in the global fintech arena, marked by unprecedented growth and a relentless pursuit of innovation. With a staggering transaction value of $39.3 billion in its fintech market this year, the UAE's ascent in this sector is nothing short of remarkable. Predictions paint an even more promising picture, with a projected compound annual growth rate surpassing 15 per cent. This meteoric rise is not a happenstance but is fuelled by a well-crafted national digital economy strategy.

The regional fintech industry is poised for significant growth, driven by advancements in supply chain technology, customer-centric solutions, and digital payment methods. In response to consumer demand for simple, fast, and secure digital transactions, there has been a notable increase in the popularity of digital payment methods in MENA.

Driven by the UAE’s buoyant financial sector, e& money – the fintech arm of e& life – has set its sights on transforming the way people experience finance since its inception. With a vision to become the country’s premier financial application, e& money has a strong focus on innovation and revolutionising digital payments. In 2023, the platform reached several milestones, including achieving a fourfold increase in transaction volume and reaching 880,000 registered users. The e& money platform also had the highest monthly active users in UAE among the fintech apps in the past year. This remarkable feat positions e& money as one of the fastest-growing financial applications in the region.

e& money
e& money – the fintech arm of e& life – has set its sights on transforming the way people experience finance. Image Credit: Supplied

The e& money platform offers a comprehensive array of financial services, catering to a wide range of user needs. These services include payments, money transfers, bill payments, and the e& money card. In partnership with Mastercard, e& money introduced its ‘e& money card’, providing app users with a secure and convenient payment solution for both in-store and online transactions on a global scale. This pioneering initiative established e& money as the first telecommunication operator-backed card in the UAE. Since its launch in March 2023, over 350,000 e& money digital cards have been issued, offering one of the most rewarding programs in the nation. Users enjoy cash rewards equivalent to one per cent of their purchases during the launch period, a benefit typically associated with credit cards.

“We pride ourselves on enabling our customers with seamless and swift access to our wide array of services. In fact, we provide our customers with a Mastercard branded card within 10 seconds after registration,” explains Al Shamsi.

The CEO reiterates the company’s commitment to empowering every e& money customer with the necessary tools and opportunities to achieve financial success. “We are committed to breaking down barriers and providing easily accessible financial services, whether you're well-banked, underbanked, or unbanked. Financial inclusivity is not just a goal for us; it's our mission, and we are dedicated to making it a reality for all,” he says.

Recognising the UAE's position as the region’s second biggest outflow remittance market, e& money also doubled down on enhancing its services in 2023. "Compared to the previous year, we achieved a fivefold increase in the number of Instant Money Transfer (IMT) transactions. We believe that this is a testament to the success of our proactive approach to addressing the financial needs of our customers,” says Al Shamsi.

e& money’s strategic partnerships, particularly the collaboration with MoneyGram, have been instrumental in its success. This partnership has significantly broadened the company's global reach, enabling customers to transfer money with ease. With diverse receiving options available across regions including India, China, Asia, and Latin America, e& money has established itself as a prominent player in the international money transfer market. Furthermore, it also incorporated the ability to transfer money to subsidiary company wallets in specific markets, such as Egypt (Etisalat cash), Pakistan (UPaisa), and Afghanistan (mHawala).

e& money’s efforts to promote financial inclusion extends beyond providing innovative financial services, swift money transfers, and favourable remittance fees. The company has also initiated special programmes to aid individuals in Afghanistan, Morocco, and Libya, allowing them to make international money transfers at zero fees and access the best exchange rates available.

“We believe that by prioritising accessible, affordable, and secure financial services, we not only benefit our customers but also contribute to the economic well-being of the regions we serve. Our commitment to offering competitive and seamless financial services isn't just about transactions; it's about making a positive impact on the lives of individuals who benefit from our services,” says Al Shamsi.

These endeavours garnered recognition, with e& money receiving accolades as the ‘Best Digital Wallet’ and ‘Best Technological Innovation in Financial Services’ for 2023.

In 2024, Al Shamsi notes that the fintech firm’s focus will be centred on enhancing the versatility of the e& money card. “We envision a world where financial empowerment knows no boundaries. This year, our focus will be on successfully integrating the e& money card with popular wallets such as Samsung Wallet, Apple Pay, and Google Pay. Our mission is to empower individuals worldwide, ensuring effortless access to financial services, irrespective of location or circumstances. e& money goes beyond facilitating transactions; we're paving the way for a future where secure and contactless payments become a universal norm,” says Al Shamsi.

Journey to digital entertainment dominance

e& life's media and entertainment subsidiary, evision, has also witnessed remarkable milestones, shaping its trajectory as a regional leader in the digital entertainment landscape. Through strategic acquisitions, content enrichment, and innovative ventures, evision strengthened its market presence.

"In line with the e& strategy, evision aims to become a leading regional champion for all media and entertainment, including video, audio, and gaming, directly supporting the strategic objective of e& life to be the leading consumer ecosystem player in the region," says Al Shamsi.

To strengthen e&’s digital ecosystem, evision delivers a one-stop-shop solution for the best content and entertainment. Its ever-growing digital services portfolio features a broad content and entertainment mix, including news, entertainment, audio, edutainment, and gaming, with flagship services such as eLife TV, Switch TV, Misr TV, Mobily TV, and PTCL.

Among the pivotal moments in evision's journey over the past year was the acquisition of STARZPLAY, a move that solidified its position as the largest and most trusted content aggregator in the Middle East, North Africa, and Pakistan (MENAP) region. "By acquiring a majority stake in STARZPLAY, e& gained a fast-growing streaming platform with over 4.5 million subscribers. The strategic investment strengthens e&’s content aggregation lead and distribution reach," explains Al Shamsi.

With over 20 years of collaboration with major Hollywood studios, independent studios, and regional content suppliers, evision delivers over 600 TV channels and 40,000 hours of on-demand content across multiple languages. Its ongoing expansion and innovation extended its reach to 22 countries, amassing over 4.5 million subscribers across eLife TV, STARZPLAY, and regional operators.

The company also secured a significant stake in the leading video streaming platform STARZPLAY ARABIA, which led to a subscriber growth spike multiple times greater than the previous year. STARZPLAY ARABIA holds exclusive ad sales rights in vital sectors and oversees commercial services across the Middle East and North Africa.

Among the notable outcomes of the acquisition have been the launch of new product lines, expanded geographic reach, and access to advanced technical capabilities. In the same vein, STARZPLAY has also leveraged the media content delivered by evision, optimising content acquisition spending and significantly enhancing distribution capabilities within their footprint. As a result, STARZPLAY achieved a remarkable milestone in 2023, ranking as the 2nd Streaming Service in MENA, according to the Omdia report.

Highlighting the company's focus on original content production, the CEO highlights that their key focus in 2023 was curating original content. The year began with the launch of the first STARZPLAY original series, ‘Kaboos,’ a show designed to resonate with Arabic audiences. ‘Kaboos’ is an anthology of five episodes that delves into regional legends and nightmares. This foray into original content was followed by several other projects, such as ‘Harley’ featuring Mohamed Ramadan and ‘Million Dollar Listing Dubai.’

In 2023, evision unveiled its own ad-supported streaming platform, StarzOn, in the MENA region. Image Credit: Supplied

“We have seen how originals provide a great uplift in terms of engagement and perception. We have big aspirations in that field, whilst there is a growing demand for Arabic original content. We will tap into the rich cultural tradition of the MENA region to extract the stories that can also sell internationally,” says Al Shamsi.

STARZPLAY also announced the production of a new original show called ‘Italian Dream’. This six-episode original reality TV show will scout for rising stars in MENA, offering them a chance to shine in Serie A, one of the most famous football leagues in the world. “With this show to be released in 2024, we are showing how sport and entertainment converge to make a great reality show for MENA, in the same way STARZPLAY has merged sport and entertainment in its content proposition,” adds Al Shamsi.

In 2023, evision also unveiled its own ad-supported streaming platform, StarzOn, in the MENA region. StarzOn offers a diverse range of content, including regional, Hollywood, Bollywood, English, Arabic, and French titles, along with sports, all available free of charge. This strategic move aligns with the anticipated surge in video streaming in the MENA region over the next five years.

"The MENA region has a rich tapestry of cultures, and we aim to celebrate and embrace its diversity through our offerings. That said, we aim to bridge the content gap for a multilingual free ad-supported platform in the MENA region and are committed to becoming a pioneering leader in the region by offering free access to premium entertainment that will be a game-changer for everyone," says Al Shamsi.

Additionally, StarzOn represents an innovative new entry into the high-growth advertising-based video-on-demand (AVOD) space for STARZPLAY. As an AVOD, StarzOn provides consumers access to quality video content completely free, with costs subsidised by advertisers.

“We built and launched StarzOn to introduce an AVOD model catering to consumer preferences in MENA, where cost has traditionally been a barrier to accessing premium streaming entertainment. By unlocking free access to STARZPLAY's impressive content library, StarzOn pioneers a new era of choice for viewers across the region,” says Al Shamsi.

Built entirely in-house in a record three months, StarzOn provides consumers access to over 6,000 hours of quality entertainment completely free of charge. Offering an unrivalled breadth of regional, Hollywood, and Bollywood titles, StarzOn features 51 channels and exclusive original programming across multiple languages.

"We are thrilled to introduce a groundbreaking platform that leverages AI-powered recommendations to captivate users and deliver unparalleled, tailor-made content experiences. It utilises precision segmentation and strategic targeting across diverse audience groups. In addition, more cutting-edge features will be continuously integrated into the outstanding interface to enhance the customer experience and provide a value-added offering for advertisers,” says Al Shamsi.

He adds: “We firmly believe that this novel platform represents the future of entertainment, reshaping how individuals engage with content. We foresee an exciting growth in 2024 in this space as it becomes more mainstream, driven by our robust marketing efforts for this unique offering.”

The home of premium digital entertainment

Beyond acquisitions, evision’s content arsenal received a substantial boost through strategic collaborations with Arabic entertainment platforms, enhancing the viewing experience for local audiences. Moreover, the organisation secured exclusive broadcasting rights for prestigious sporting events, including the PGA Tour, Ryder Cup, 2023 ICC Cricket World Cup, and Serie A, strengthening its position as a premier destination for sports enthusiasts.

Not stopping at sports, evision further strengthened its leadership in entertainment by relaunching the Indian movie channel eMasala as ‘em,’ delivering premium Bollywood content. This move showcases evision's commitment to providing premium Bollywood content tailored to a diverse audience.

evision's proprietary channels have also played an important role in enriching its content ecosystem. From 'ejunior,' the UAE's top children's channel, to 'CricLife,' 'GolfLife,' and 24-hour entertainment channels like STARZPLAY, its commitment to providing diverse and engaging content remains at the forefront.

Industry reports predict that by 2025, the digital entertainment sector across the Middle East, North Africa, Afghanistan, and Pakistan is poised for remarkable growth, potentially reaching an astonishing $10 billion. Notably, video-on-demand services are expected to contribute significantly, generating an impressive $5.5 billion in revenue, with an estimated user base of 29 million. This positions evision exceptionally well to cater to the increasing demand for diverse content.

"Such projections underline a significant opportunity for evision in the digital entertainment landscape. e&'s robust foothold in MENA strengthens our presence with continuous investments and securing exclusive broadcasting rights to premium Arabic titles," notes Al Shamsi.

Al Shamsi further emphasises evision’s multifaceted and dynamic strategy with a focus on enhancing the viewer experience. "We're expanding our live broadcasting channels and video-on-demand offerings, enriching our Hollywood content library with exclusive originals," he says. "We're also committed to broadening our content scope, incorporating assets and media from various sources, including video, audio, games, and a more diversified entertainment palette to cater to a broader range of consumers."

Innovation is the driving force behind evision's future. "Leveraging our expertise in content diversification, we're venturing further into realms like video services, digital games, and innovative solutions. Our vision is to forge alliances with industry leaders and actively look for acquisition opportunities, all while amplifying our footprint in the digital advertising sector within the region and driving revenue streams."

The past year also saw evision forge exciting partnerships and acquisition of exclusive sports and entertainment rights. The company acquired key MENA exclusive cricket rights for the IPL, ICC World Cup, Asian Cup, US MLCT20, Bangladesh Cricket series, Caribbean Premier League, Sri Lanka Board, and Cricket West Indies. Additionally, evision secured the exclusive bid for the premium International Cricket Council ICC Men and Women’s Events for four years across MENA, providing a longer-term anchor for fuelling evision’s business. In further developments, the company also partnered with ESPN's CricInfo and CricBuzz to direct traffic to evision’s proprietary CricLife Channels and distribute their cricket channels and offerings across MENA starting in 2024.

Apart from cricket, evision also expanded its presence in the MENA region by acquiring key exclusive golf rights, including the US Open, British Open, Asian Tour, and Ladies PGA Tour, making it the go-to viewing platform for golf enthusiasts. Additionally, evision ventured into the world of anime content by acquiring the rights and launching the Otaku anime brand. Furthermore, exclusive Korean content for the MENA region was secured from South Korea Telecom’s WAVVE.

“Acquiring this wide range of content showcases our dedication to continuously expanding our content offerings and forging strategic partnerships to cater to our audience’s diverse cultures, interests, and preferences. Our mission is to be the leading provider of premium entertainment in the MENA region, offering captivating experiences that resonate with our viewers,” says Al Shamsi.

He adds, “We are at the forefront of making a remarkable impact in the entertainment industry, committed to elevating the customer experience by providing high-quality content for viewers to enjoy anytime, anywhere.”

Unlimited possibilities

Looking ahead, e& life’s vision is clear: to continue its remarkable growth trajectory and consolidate its leadership in the MENAP digital services space. It aspires to remain the preferred destination for leading consumer digital businesses across various sectors in the region.

With the integration of the Careem Everything App, evision reshaping the face of digital entertainment, rise, and e& money’s continuous success, e& life anticipates a bright future defined by robust revenue growth, an expanding customer base, and cutting-edge digital services.

"As we continue our growth journey in 2024, I firmly believe that the future of digital services in both fintech and entertainment hinges on the pillars of personalisation, automation, and intelligence. With the rise of transformative technologies like AI, machine learning, and blockchain, our services are poised to revolutionise how we work, live, and play. It's our mission to create a world where a seamless, interconnected experience prevails across all services, and we have only just begun to scratch the surface of what’s possible.”