Subscription streamer Starz Play Arabia is getting a major cash injection from a consortium of Abu Dhabi-based companies that are acquiring a roughly 57% stake in the SVOD service.
A group comprising E-Vision, which is a Hollywood and Bollywood content aggregator, and United Arab Emirates sovereign fund ADQ, has purchased a controlling stake in Starz Play Arabia, which has been valued at $420 million, according to a statement.
“Starz and its parent company Lionsgate will maintain commercial agreements for content licensing to the venture,” the statement said. The deal still needs to clear regulatory approval and some administrative procedures.
The deal reduces Lionsgate’s stake in Starz Play Arabia down from 30% to 13% and provides the studio with nearly $50 million in return.
Starz Play Arabia, which was launched in 2015 as the first Starz-branded SVOD outside the U.S., is now available in 19 countries across the Middle East, North Africa and Pakistan.
Led by Maaz Sheikh, its CEO and co-founder, the streamer has close ties to studios –– including MGM, 20th Century, Disney, Warner Bros, Universal, Discovery and Fox International Channels –– and claims to have now reached almost 2 million subscribers. This creates good synergy with E-Vision, a digital media pioneer in the region with a library of 15,000 hours of on-demand content across many languages.
The synergy with E-Vision “will enable the launch of new product lines, expand geographic reach and access to advanced technical capabilities,” the statement note. The acquisition “also provides potential for further international expansion,” it added, leveraging Starz Play Arabia’s reach across 20 global telcos.”
The move to take Starz Play Arabia to the next level is being made just as SVOD gains momentum in the region and the field is getting more crowded. Prominent player OSN last week announced a major re-branding; beIN-owned TOD service has just launched; MBC’s Shahid VIP streaming service is gaining major traction, as is Netflix. Disney Plus and HBO Max are all planning to launch in the region over the next 12-24 months.
“We’re proud of what Maaz and the team have built over the past few years, creating one of the pre-eminent SVOD platforms in the Middle East and North Africa,” said Jeffrey Hirsch, president and CEO of Starz, who noted that Starz Play Arabia “has served as a template for growth that allowed us to rapidly scale the Starz Play brand around the world now in over 60 countries.”
Khalifa Al Shamsi, who is chairman of E-Vision, called the acquisition “a major milestone” for the company, adding that the Starz Play Arabia deal “is expected to accelerate E-Vision’s transition from focusing on the telecom network business to also providing Direct to Consumer (DTC) streaming services to consumers across the MENA region.”
Jaap Kalkman, Group Chief Investment Officer pointed out that Starz Play Arabia “has developed a unique market positioning in the MENA region and is well positioned for further growth.”
Maaz Sheikh underlined that the investment by E-Vision and ADQ “will enable us to grow further by focusing on original content production and advanced customer personalization.”
“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,” he added.