Sanjay Raina, regional head of Fox Networks Group,
Sanjay Raina Image Credit: Clint Egbert/Gulf News

Dubai: Fox Networks Group, the operating company of Fox television broadcasting and content, has launched a streaming service ‘Fox Plus’, in the Middle East and North Africa.

The company’s library of films, entertainment programming, and lifestyle content will sit on MBC’s Shahid Plus platform, following an agreement between the two. In an increasingly crowded market, consumers in the Middle East can choose between Netflix, Starz Play, Icflix, Iflix, Shahid Plus and OSN’s Wavo.

Sanjay Raina, regional head of Fox Networks Group, said he believed tying up with an existing platform — instead of launching its own — was “the sensible thing to do”. Marrying English-language entertainment, Raina said, with a predominantly Arabic-language platform, had “immense value”.

“This is a great alliance between the two brands, something that hasn’t happened before in TV in this region,” Raina said.

Raina described MBC as large and dominant, and Fox as being very strong globally. “[Fox] has a limited appeal in the world of Arabs, because it’s a largely English proposition, but the two coming together is creating a powerhouse of content distribution. Alliances are possible.

In Saudi Arabia, Fox has partnered with state-owned STC’s Jawwy platform. We need to remember that … beyond the shores of the UAE, everything is in Arabic. That’s where your numbers will ramp up. These Arabic speaking audiences will also have a taste for English entertainment,” noted Raina.

But primarily, Raina added, content was typically consumed in one’s native language. This focus on the Arabic-speaking market would lead to more original content, according to Raina. “I’m sure it will — we’ve already embarked on creating a lot of factual Arabic content for National Geographic in the region. We’ve had great response to those products, and we want to do much more of that, which will all go on Fox Plus,” he said.

The senior executive declined to share any details around the business side of the deal. “Let’s stay away from how much they’re paying … It’s a financial agreement, and there’s no free lunch in business,” he said.

Fox began piloting the streaming service in South East Asia last year, with Fox Plus having already launched in Hong Kong, Taiwan, the Philippines and Singapore.

Across the Middle East and North Africa, MBC will offer Fox’s content through a variety of channels on Shahid Plus: Fox Cinema, Fox Life, and Fox Drama, to name a few.

When asked about potential obstacles to the service’s adoption throughout the region, Raina said he was less concerned by data pricing and availability, and more by credit card penetration and piracy.

“I’m not worried about broadband. 3G is already widely available, which is good enough for streaming. There is one issue which clearly comes up when you go direct to the consumer … and that is the penetration of credit cards, which beyond the UAE and Saudi is wanting.”

Payment mechanisms and payment gateways, Raina added, would be crucial. “It remains an obstacle.”