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INTERVIEW: CEO Maaz Sheikh sees business skyrocket as Saudi viewers turn to streaming services

Maaz Sheikh has had an excellent lockdown.

The founder and CEO of Starzplay, the Middle East’s leading entertainment streaming channel, saw his business soar as curfews, social distancing and travel constraints left people with little to do apart from slump in front of a TELEVISION and binge watch for hours on end.

” I believe when the entire circumstance was unfolding, we were trying to believe which method is up and which was down, both on a personal level and likewise as a business– what it means for our subscribers. It was nerve-wracking in the beginning,” Maaz Sheikh informed Arab News.

In the region, it was Starzplay subscribers selected to view, rather than Netflix or other streaming services, in English and in Arabic.

” What we gained from, naturally, was all individuals staying home, but among the things that operated in our favor was that we are a company based and headquartered here, and we were able to adjust and localize our services much quicker than anyone else,” he said.

” In Saudi Arabia, you can sign up for Starzplay via STC, Mobily or any of the other services. Netflix came to this region with a very US-centric mindset, thinking that everyone had a credit card and that having a credit card is a standard in the world.

” So, through one costs where you pay your landline and your broadband, you can likewise have access to Starzplay on the very same bill. You can just download onto your smart TV,” he added.

Starzplay has been in business for 5 years, and while it is probably not too known as Netflix, it has actually been making huge inroads into the region, particularly Saudi Arabia.

The Kingdom accounts for 40 percent of overall profits, while almost half of all consumption in the Middle East and North Africa area originates from Saudi audiences.

And what have they been enjoying throughout the long weeks of lockdown?

Lots of “Vikings,” “The Workplace” and Turkish-made romantic soap “Jusoor Wal Jamila.”

Saudis typically viewed more than 18 hours of Starzplay in May, compared with less than 12 a year before.


BORN: Islamabad 1970.


  • Schooling in Dubai, UAE.
  • Oklahoma State University, United States.
  • University of Kansas, MBA.


  • Various executive roles in media and interactions, US.
  • Chief sales and operations officer, OSN, Dubai.
  • CEO and founder, Starzplay.

” The charm is that everyone has a mobile phone. We were there in the market with the right product, the best content, but likewise the right distribution so the masses can in fact register for our service. It actually benefited us.

” It was not simply that we were a streaming service. The entire category benefited from the lockdown, however we were the only one in the market that had this kind of distribution and payment arrangements. We were the only one available to the masses,” Sheikh said.

It is not just the distribution platform that is different from Netflix. Starzplay takes an unique stance on material, too, as Sheikh described.

What is happening is that the more Netflix has gone into its own originals, the more studios see them as a competitor.

” Previously, with what comes out of Hollywood and the UK, 95 percent of English-language material was produced by seven or eight studios. In the UK it’s the similarity the BBC and ITV, while in the US it’s Warner, Disney, Sony, Showtime, CBS, all the significant studios,” he stated.

” So, the method the market is evolving is that if you desire Netflix originals, you go to Netflix, if you desire anything else you go to Starzplay,” he said.

Sheikh reeled off an impressive list of top shows on his platform. “Big Bang Theory,” “Billions,” “Grey’s Anatomy” and “Britannia” are amongst them, while younger audiences absorb “The Flash,” “Supergirl” and other DC titles made by Warner Studios.

Starzplay has likewise made its very first venture into initial material, customized for a Middle East audience, with the series “Baghdad Central.”

” Data is the brand-new oil, they say, and ‘Baghdad Central’ was the result of our experience over five years of usage history, with billions and billions of minutes taken in. Based on what people were consuming in our essential markets and with those insights, we produced our very first original,” Sheikh stated.

” Baghdad Central” was released in March with a huge name Hollywood actor– Corey Stoll from the award-winning series “House of Cards”– as well as leading British and Arab stars.

” We wished to bring a show to the region that integrated the best of the three. It was shot in Morocco in partnership with UK and US producers,” he described.

That type of content has pulled in the viewers throughout lockdown. The figures show Starzplay hit a peak of 6.5 million everyday minutes of consumption in Saudi Arabia in the middle of April, compared to about 2 million before the pandemic lockdowns.

Existing viewers are also watching more. The average Saudi invested 28 minutes daily in front of a Starzplay program prior to the lockdown. That more than doubled to one hour as motion outside the house was limited.

” To put that into point of view, it took us five years to go from zero to 2 million minutes a day, and it took us 6 weeks to go from 2 million to 6.5 million. We did more usage development in 6 weeks than we carried out in the very first five years,” Sheikh stated.

He hesitates to anticipate how many of these customers will stay with Starzplay as the lockdowns are reduced worldwide and the region.

” I’m expecting some churn, so it’s tough to forecast what the base will appear like later in the year. We saw significant development, however as the lockdown alleviates I believe we’ll see some churn on those subscribers,” he said.

Even as the lockdown are eased significantly in the region, customers are not going back to pre-pandemic levels. There is most likely to be an irreversible shift in demand for Starzplay in the “new typical” environment.

One of the things that has occurred is that since of increasing need and awareness, people got to discover out about Starzplay.

I’m expecting some churn in high sign-ups and decreased consumption volumes, however the lasting advantage we’re hoping for is the brand name awareness and content awareness that was created,” he said.

That kind of growth is likely to accelerate Starzplay’s advancement from an independently moneyed startup to a listed public business. It has raised $125 million over its 5 years, from some quite excellent financiers, consisting of United States media giant Lionsgate, the big monetary firm State Street Global Advisers, and Nordic investment company SEQ, which backed Starzplay from the beginning.

With success just around the corner, Sheikh does not see the requirement for additional financing, specifically as investment sources have actually dried up during the unpredictability of the pandemic period.

This is not a good time to be out there raising money,” he said.

One is that you generate cash and shareholders benefit from money dividends. The more high-growth model that is more appropriate to companies like us is shareholders push for more development and growth to increase the enterprise worth of the company,” he stated.

Sheikh has set his medium-term sights on a public listing. “In the long run the objective is to continue to grow the business, and in the next three to five years to get into a position where we can list the business on the London Stock Market.

I ‘d state what we’re looking to do is note ourselves, and if not in London, then other markets, regional or London. We’re still two to three years away from a choice, however that’s our ambition,” he stated.

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