The rise and future of StarzPlay

The rise and future of StarzPlay
StarzPlay reached a massive 1.8 million subscribers mid-2020. (StarzPlay website screenshot)
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Updated 05 October 2020

The rise and future of StarzPlay

The rise and future of StarzPlay

The unprecedented rise of streaming services and online video content in 2020 is no surprise. From Netflix to StarzPlay, all companies have reported a rise in content consumption and time spent on their platforms.

But StarzPlay, which reached a massive 1.8 million subscribers mid-2020, waited until September to announce the numbers.

“You hear of streaming companies making claims, but very few companies have ever come out and shared the data,” said StarzPlay CEO Maaz Sheikh.

“We took that step even further. Not only are we are sharing the data publicly, but we’re also making the data available to a third-party research firm (PSB) to validate the data and the findings.”

The Dubai-based company saw strong growth in users, peaking at 141 percent in April 2020, with a 50 percent increase in streaming hours per unique user during the lockdown period.

During this time, StarzPlay’s top market Saudi Arabia outpaced the average growth in hours per user, while the UAE emerged as a top growth market in the region, nearly doubling both hours and unique users.

But as lockdowns eased, many services saw new users dropping off. A US study found that the overall “churn rate” — the number of subscribers who canceled their subscription — jumped to 41 percent in the first quarter of 2020, up 6 percentage points from the same period in 2019.

Danny Bates, chief commercial officer of StarzPlay, told Arab News that the company saw a “large organic influx” of new customers from March to June, followed by some losses in July and August.

He would not give specific numbers but said: “Now when I look at our position, our churn has gone back to its normal levels. We don’t have a particularly high number of new customers, but when I look at our position from closing numbers on Dec. 31, 2019 to our numbers in September, we’ve grown by almost 600,000 customers so far year-to-date.”

That is a significant achievement for the local player, which dominated 29 percent of the subscriber market, ahead of Netflix, and 24 percent market share in terms of revenue, at par with Netflix, in 2019, according to IHS Markit.

Much of StarzPlay’s success is based on its content strategy, which so far has largely been based on acquisitions.

But as the appetite for Arabic content increases, streaming services are stepping in to not only make more Arabic content available, but also to produce some themselves.

For instance, last month Netflix signed a five-year exclusive partnership with Saudi animation studio Myrkott to produce Saudi-focused shows and films, along with a similar period first-look option on the company’s upcoming projects.

StarzPlay is also looking to increase its Arabic content offering through original productions. Earlier this year, it featured its first original show, “Baghdad Central,” which has become one if its top-watched Arabic shows this year.

It is also working with an Abu Dhabi-based production company on a pan-Arab series that was delayed due to COVID-19 but is expected to be out by the second quarter of 2021.

The biggest change to come, Bates said, is the aggregation of other channels or services on the StarzPlay platform.

“There are many international players that are looking to come into the MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region, but don’t necessarily want to come in and do the marketing directly, or go through the pain of localizing in 26 countries with payment methods, user interface and applications,” he added.

“So one of the things you’ll see more and more from us is we’re going to start to aggregate other services on our platform.”

The first of these services is Discovery Channel, which will be made available as “D-play” at the end of October, with more announcements to come toward the end of the year.

There is no doubt that streaming services are one of the few service categories to emerge successful in 2020 — a success that was, at least in part, magnified by the closure of cinemas.

“We’ve never seen a correlation between people’s cinema activity and OTT services,” Bates said. But the fact is that several productions, including Jon Stewart’s “Irresistible,” Spike Lee’s “Da 5 Bloods” and Judd Apatow’s “The King of Staten Island,” have opted for digital instead of theatrical releases.

“I think there’s always an opportunity. Now that cinemas are open, it makes perfect sense for the movie to launch in a cinema first,” Bates added.

“We always look at how we can shorten that window between something being in the cinema and appearing on services like ours,” he added.

“I definitely think there’s another monetization window that they (large content providers) can take advantage of.

“As we look at our strategy moving forward, potentially doing transactional VOD (video on demand) releases on our platform is potentially something we’d consider in 2021. It’s definitely something we’re thinking of, and definitely something we’re talking to our partners about.”


Macron, Ardern hold talks in new push against online extremism

Macron, Ardern hold talks in new push against online extremism
Updated 14 May 2021

Macron, Ardern hold talks in new push against online extremism

Macron, Ardern hold talks in new push against online extremism
  • The campaign aims to bring together governments and top tech platforms
  • Christchurch Call’s participants are asked to commit to pledges to eliminate terrorist and violent extremist content

PARIS: French President Emmanuel Macron and New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern were to hold talks Friday by video conference to advance their two-year-old campaign to curb online extremism.
The talks will mark two years since the leaders launched the Christchurch Call, an initiative named after the New Zealand city where a far-right gunman massacred 51 people at two mosques on March 15, 2019 while broadcasting his rampage live on Facebook.
The campaign, which aims to bring together governments and top tech platforms, has been boosted by the decision of the administration of new US President Joe Biden to join the initiative after Donald Trump turned his back on the drive.
The aim of the talks, due to get underway at 1830 GMT, will be to “reaffirm strong, high-level political support, determine new goals for Christchurch Call signatories and maintain an open but demanding dialogue with digital platforms,” the French presidency said.
Participants in the Christchurch Call are asked to commit to pledges to eliminate terrorist and violent extremist content on social media and other online platforms.
It was not immediately clear which tech chiefs and other leaders would be dialling into the virtual talks.
According to Macron’s office, this initiative now involves 52 states, the European Commission, 10 large companies and global Internet platforms and as well as dozen civil society associations.
The drive was launched to counter a growing use of social media by extremists, after the Christchurch attacker broadcast live footage on Facebook from a head-mounted camera.
The New Zealand leader earned huge international prominence and respect after the attacks by reaching out to Muslim communities at home and vowing a widescale crackdown on extremist content.
“Among the priorities I would like to see progressed is a strengthened collective ability to manage crises related to terrorist and violent extremist content online,” Ardern said in a statement released by the French presidency ahead of the talks.
Macron added: “The work of the Call is ongoing and it remains as important as when it was launched two years ago.”


Turkish tourism video taken down after online outcry

Turkish tourism video taken down after online outcry
Updated 14 May 2021

Turkish tourism video taken down after online outcry

Turkish tourism video taken down after online outcry
  • Opposition parties and critics on social media said the promotional video was an insult to Turks
  • The video, in English, was published Thursday on the social media accounts of official travel guide Go Turkiye

ISTANBUL: A video promoting tourism in Turkey amid the pandemic has caused an uproar on social media for showing tourism employees wearing masks that read “Enjoy, I’m vaccinated.”
The video, in English, was published Thursday on the social media accounts of official travel guide Go Turkiye linked to the country’s tourism ministry and was taken down later that day without explanation. It aimed to promote travel to Turkey as a “safe haven” for foreigners and showed unmasked tourists being served in hotels on the Turkish coast.
Opposition parties and critics on social media said the promotional video was an insult to Turks. A hashtag calling for the tourism minister to resign was trending on Twitter Friday. Users likened the masks to branding cattle and interpreted the ad’s message as Turks being subservient to foreigners.
“Sanitized resorts and vaccinated staff! We call it double safety for tourism. Our guests call it peace of mind” the video said.

 

 

Tourism workers have been prioritized to receive their vaccinations and the country’s foreign minister promised “we will vaccinate all people tourists may see by the end of May.” Many people are waiting for their turn. About 12.8 percent of Turkey’s nearly 84 million population has been fully vaccinated using China’s Sinovac or the US-German Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
Turkey is in the final days of a full lockdown and the government has ordered people to stay home and businesses to close amid a huge surge in infections. But millions of workers are exempt and so are foreign tourists.
The restrictions, which began in late April, have brought daily infection numbers down from above 62,000 to around 11,500. Turkey’s president said the aim is to lower cases to below 5,000 in order for tourism to begin.
Turkey is courting international tourists during an economic downturn and needs the foreign currencies tourism brings to help industry and the economy as the Turkish lira continues to lose value. International tourists have been enjoying an empty Istanbul, Turkey’s famous beaches and other sites all to themselves, while Turks have been told to stay home and face expensive fines if they break rules.
Russia, however, has suspended flights to Turkey until June 1 and the UK and France recently warned their citizens not to travel to Turkey, introducing mandatory quarantines for travelers arriving from Turkey.
Starting May 17, Turkey is dropping the requirement to present a negative COVID-19 test result when arriving in Turkey for passengers arriving from Hong Kong, China, Vietnam, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Thailand, South Korea, Israel, Japan, the United Kingdom, Latvia, Luxembourg, Ukraine and Estonia. Turkey requires mandatory quarantines for people who visited India, Brazil or South Africa, but other travelers can begin their vacations straightaway.


Tech giants face hefty fines under UK online safety bill to protect children

Tech giants face hefty fines under UK online safety bill to protect children
Updated 13 May 2021

Tech giants face hefty fines under UK online safety bill to protect children

Tech giants face hefty fines under UK online safety bill to protect children
  • A new online safety bill will regulate social media with terms and conditions on minimum age thresholds
  • Ofcom, the government-approved regulator for broadcasting and telecommunications, will be responsible for enforcing the new bill

LONDON: The UK government announced plans on Wednesday to introduce age verification for users accessing social media platforms as part of efforts to protect children online. 

A new online safety bill will regulate social media with terms and conditions on minimum age thresholds, while tech giants such as Facebook, Google and Twitter will face hefty fines if they allow underage children to access their services. 

Ofcom, the government-approved regulator for broadcasting and telecommunications, will be responsible for enforcing the new bill.

Currently, children under 13 are not allowed to sign up to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube, while those under 12 are prohibited from creating a Google account. Meanwhile, the Facebook-owned chat service WhatsApp has a minimum age of 16.

Most social media companies rely on users self-declaring their age when they sign up. However, under the new regulations, Ofcom will have the power to carry out age checks and recommend certain social media platforms introduce age verifications. 

This could mean that social media firms will require users to upload a form of ID to verify their age. However, platforms warned that this move would exclude millions of users, both young and old, because many lack the documentation required.

The Online Harms Foundation criticized the UK government’s plans, saying that the proposals “overwhelmingly ignored” smaller platforms in favor of tech giants.

In a statement, the foundation claimed that the government focused on larger platforms, which already carry out much of what the bill demands.


Live TV broadcasts Israeli mob attacking driver they believe to be Arab

Live TV broadcasts Israeli mob attacking driver they believe to be Arab
Updated 13 May 2021

Live TV broadcasts Israeli mob attacking driver they believe to be Arab

Live TV broadcasts Israeli mob attacking driver they believe to be Arab
  • The driver was forcibly pulled from the vehicle and dozens of people descended on him and beat him
  • Tel Aviv’s Ichilov hospital said in a statement that “the victim of the lynching is seriously injured but stable”

LONDON: Footage of a far-right Israeli mob attacking a man in Bat Yam, Tel Aviv, who they believed was an Arab was broadcast live on TV on Wednesday as Israeli extremists assaulted Arabs in several cities.

The footage was aired on Israeli public broadcaster Kan, but reports indicated that the police and emergency services did not arrive on the scene until 15 minutes later. By that time, the victim was lying on the ground motionless and bloodied in the middle of the street. 

Although Israelis at the scene justified the attack by saying that the driver was an Arab who was intentionally trying to crash into the crowd, the footage showed otherwise. A white car is seen reversing away from a crowd before it collides with another vehicle.

The car then appears to speed forward toward the crowd before being stopped by the mob. Then the driver is forcibly pulled from the vehicle and dozens of people descend on him and beat him. 

Six people have been arrested following the brutal attack. Meanwhile, Tel Aviv’s Ichilov hospital said in a statement that “the victim of the lynching is seriously injured but stable.” 

The live broadcast comes amid increased demonstrations by far-right Israelis and escalating violence between Israel and Hamas, with the UN warning that the two sides are heading for “all-out war.” 


First Muslim woman on UK Special Forces TV show describes ‘internal conflict’ at taking part

First Muslim woman on UK Special Forces TV show describes ‘internal conflict’ at taking part
Updated 11 May 2021

First Muslim woman on UK Special Forces TV show describes ‘internal conflict’ at taking part

First Muslim woman on UK Special Forces TV show describes ‘internal conflict’ at taking part
  • Fitness enthusiast Shireen Khan says “SAS Who Dares Wins” placed her in some uncomfortable situations
  • The entrepreneur of Pakistani origin said her parents did not want her to take part, and share room and toilets with men

LONDON: The first Muslim woman to take part in a popular British TV show, in which contestants are set challenges by former Special Forces members, has described both her pride in taking part but the “difficult situations” she faced linked to her faith and upbringing.
Shireen Khan, an aesthetics and tech entrepreneur from London, was chosen among thousands as one of the recruits in the action-packed series “SAS Who Dares Wins.”
The sixth season, which started airing on Sunday on Channel 4, involves an elite team of ex-Special Forces soldiers putting 21 men and women through a series of grueling physical and mental exercises designed to mirror selection for the Special Air Services (SAS).
“A lot of people thought I wasn’t going to get on the show or even pass their fitness tests,” Khan told Arab News of the entry process. “At one point, I actually thought myself I was’t going to pass, because they were so difficult.”
Even to enter the show, contestants must be able to do 44 push-ups in a minute-and-a-half, and run 1.9 kilometers in nine minutes.
Khan, 28, received the call to say she made it as one of the final recruits, but her parents were not very happy, which posed a “real conflict” for her.
“My mum was like, you are a Muslim girl and how are you planning to go onto the show, when you are going to be sleeping next to men, and going to the toilet, and all of these things, if you go on the show, I am practically going to disown you,” Khan told Arab News.
For Khan, this was “a once in a lifetime opportunity,” although it “was a very difficult situation.”
“There are Muslim women who want to go into the SAS or army, because that is their passion and the big question is, is that something they can do in the correct way of Islam?”
Since then, her father has come around due to her achievement and knowing her values, but her mother has not, however at the time of the interview, they still had not seen her contribution to the show.
On the show, the men and women share open toilets and sleep in army camp beds in the same room. They also get changed together.

The sixth season of “SAS Who Dares Wins” started airing on Sunday on UK Channel 4. (Channel 4)

“I got very constipated, because mentally that is not something I am used to, whereas a lot of the other recruits, they have been in scouts and been wilderness camping since they were young, they have been exposed to these type of things, so they did not find it as a culture shock,” Khan said. “Whereas with me, I have been brought up in a very strict Muslim household in some way, so I physically couldn’t go to the toilet.”
At one point, they returned to camp and were washed off in freezing cold water to clear the mud and filth, and were told to undress and get into their dry kit.
“It meant that everyone had to strip, and when it came to me, I just said no,” Khan said. Instead, she wore her dry kit over her wet clothes, prompting warnings from the show’s staff that she risked hypothermia.
“It was a very uncomfortable situation and what you see on TV and in reality is absolutely nothing what they put you through, they literally just put a few snippets, but you are constantly going through that trauma behind the cameras.”
Another problem she faced was that the show did not not provide halal food.
Women were only allowed to apply for the real SAS since 2018.
On the TV show, Khan is not the first Muslim to take part. In the second season, Iraqi-born Mohammed Abdul Razak, who reached the final stage, used to pray five times a day on the show.
It was filmed in a remote part of Scotland, where the British Special Forces do most of their challenging training.
Despite her best efforts, Khan was the first to be eliminated during the first task, where they had to race 2.2 kilometers up a mountain carrying 18 kilos on their backs, as she along with another contestant, would have been a liability in a real war zone, the judges said.
Contestants often have a story of hardship, which has given them the strength to turn their lives around.
“Since I was young, I was bullied at school, I was not one of the best looking girls, I had a mustache growing up, being from a Pakistani background I was extremely hairy and that was one of the targets for bullies to pick on me and beat me up in the playground,” Khan said.
She suffered from self-esteem issues, which made her binge eat and become overweight. She also went through a really tough time with her parents’ divorce and growing up without much money.
She changed her life to become as physically fit as possible and went from “rags to riches,” training as a nurse before setting up a a chain of beauty clinics across London.
“I have come a long way and...it took a lot for me to do that, but I am a pure example of when you put your mind to something it is possible.”

Shireen Khan, an aesthetics and tech entrepreneur from London, was chosen among thousands as one of the recruits in the action-packed series “SAS Who Dares Wins.” (Supplied)

Khan joined the show because wanted to experience the real SAS and army, “who are actually going through this day to day just to save us, and for us to be sleeping peacefully at night. Coming off the show, my admiration, I’ve just got no words to describe what they get exposed to every day, it’s a real honor.”
Khan does not think she is capable of a career in the SAS because she discovered on the show she has physical, mental limitations. Weighing 51kg, Khan is 157cm, and said she was physically unable to compete with the men in the same tasks.
“It has definitely changed and shaped the way I look at life in general and I am exposing myself to new challenges,” she said.
Khan said she now plans to focus on her business and charitable work “and give back to the world in a different way.”
Khan runs a charity called Carrott Kids, which helped rebuild an earthquake-damaged school for 100 children in a remote Pakistan village. The new school building opened in March.