Exclusive DTVE Interview: Maaz Sheikh, CEO and Co-founder, Starzplay Arabia

Maaz Sheikh, Starzplay Arabia Co-founder and chief executive officer speaks to Digital TV Europe about the company’s growing position in the MENA region and its expansion plans in the sports streaming market. Maaz Sheikh

Maaz Sheikh

Starzplay Arabia which launched in 2015 climbed up the ranks following close partnerships with leading international studios such as Warner Bros Universal, MGM, NBC, and Paramount Group. It has since become a leading service in the MENA region, operating across 19 territories in the Middle East and North Africa as well as Pakistan.

The company’s CEO Maaz Sheikh tells DTVE, “Over the years we’ve been continuing to expand our offering, we are now the leader in Turkish content as well as in anime. Then especially in last six months, we’ve also had a major focus on producing Arabic original content.”

During the quarter of 2022, Lionsgate sold a partial interest in Starzplay Arabia and recognised a $43 million cash gain, with the streamer ending the quarter with 2.1 million subscribers. The company has since been growing its Arabic original slate led by horrors series Kaboos.


He further highlights Starzplay increasing growth across the MENA market where “between 2022 and 2023 the business grew 40% year on year, and this year we’re looking at another 50% growth year on year.”

However, the streamer faces growing competition in the MENA market as more and more streamers expand their presence in the region, including  last year’s launch of Disney+ in 16 markets across the Middle East and North Africa.

“The marketplace is, is getting crowded and people are getting too tired of remembering all those user IDs and passwords and getting tired of paying for multiple subscriptions,” Maaz Sheikh explains. “What we are also trying to do is simplify the experience by bringing multiple services under one umbrella,” Maaz Sheikh explains.

He references partnerships with Egypt’s VOD service Watch It, Discovery Plus and the Turkish service Blu TV as part of this move, which Starzplay’s customers have access to thousands of hours of content at no additional costs.

Starzplay Arabia’s long-time partnership with Warner Bros. Intl. Television Distribution as well as Paramount, brings titles from the brands to its MENA audiences, “Continue to maintain our focus on first run Hollywood franchises and hit shows.”

Starzplay and sports Streaming

The next move to growing the platform has been evident with the launch of Starzplay Sports in August last year. The platform debuted channels AD Sports Premium 1 and AD Sports Premium 2 where where it offer a range of sports coverage.

Sheikh points to football, cricket, golf as the three key focus markets for the business, with aims to further expand in golf, the NBA, boxing and motorsports.

The platform streams ICC cricket events including the Asia Cup, the World Cup the Pakistan Super League and the Indian Premier League.

“Over 65% of the local audience in UAE is of the subcontinent descent so the Indian Premier League continues to be a very popular property here,” highlights the Starzplay boss.

The company also works alonsigde Abu Dhabi Media handling the MENA rights to Italy’s Serie A. Starzplay streams Serie A, along with Coppa Italia and Supercoppa Italiana for the next three seasons.

Commenting on its deal with Abu Dhabi Media as well as with local telecom providers he notes, “together we can make a very strong and an appealing offer to the sports rights holders. Including our ability to monetise our sports rights, not only on our OTT streaming service, but on linear and fixed broadband TV networks gives us significant economies of scale.”

Since the launch of Starzplay Sports Sheikh points its growing number of subscribers down to its sports coverage.

“What we have learned is that if done correctly, the combination of sporting events with entertainment can be a very powerful. Our mantra is you come for the sports and stay for entertainment”.

He adds, “These kind of sporting events have their own organic demand, thus rather than us marketing that event, people search for it and it drives traffic to our apps and to our website. We like that complimentary nature of sports and entertainment where sports drives demand and has its own organic appeal. People come for that and then they discover our entertainment content and tend to stay with us. So we use sports to drive new customers and via entertainment keep customers on the service for longer.”

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