StarzPlay eyes 2023 IPO as Saudi business surges 40% during pandemic

Maaz Sheikh, founder and CEO of StarzPlay. (Supplied)
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Maaz Sheikh, founder and CEO of StarzPlay. (Supplied)
Maaz Sheikh, founder and CEO of StarzPlay. (Supplied)
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Maaz Sheikh, founder and CEO of StarzPlay. (Supplied)
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Updated 03 February 2021

StarzPlay eyes 2023 IPO as Saudi business surges 40% during pandemic

Maaz Sheikh, founder and CEO of StarzPlay. (Supplied)
  • Video streaming service plans to use its latest $25m in funding to finance more Arabic content

RIYADH: StarzPlay, the Middle East’s fastest-growing entertainment streaming channel, is eyeing an initial public offering (IPO) by 2023 amid plans to double its business.

The main rival to American content platform streaming service Netflix in the Middle East, StarzPlay saw its business soar during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, as lockdowns, social distancing and travel restrictions left users with little to do apart from slump in front of a TV and binge-watch their favorite shows.

In an interview with Arab News, Maaz Sheikh, founder and CEO of StarzPlay, said Saudi Arabia was the platform’s fastest-growing market.

“Our subscriptions in the Kingdom have increased 40 percent in 2020 as against 2019,” he said, adding that Saudi Arabia and the UAE combined accounted for 75 percent of StarzPlay’s total revenue. “We don’t expect that to change; we expect it to continue to grow,” he said.

“In Saudi Arabia, we believe we are in the very early days of adoption of the service, and we are just scratching the surface. We believe the next five years are going to be even stronger. We have a lot more opportunity in the Kingdom,” the CEO said.

The company is aiming to double its revenue and subscribers within the next few years. To fund its ambitious plans, this week it announced its first independent debt financing in the region, amounting to $25 million, from Abu Dhabi-based alternative investment firm Ruya Partners.

The funds will be used to strengthening the company’s geographic and customer reach, acquire and produce original content and maximize long-term value for its stakeholders.

This investment marks the first time that StarzPlay has attracted debt financing from a regional investor. Launched in 2015, it previously raised $125 million from global industry investors, including American cable company STARZ and Boston-based investment management firm State Street Global Advisors.

Sheikh said some of the funding will be used to invest in producing more Arabic content. “Although we carry about 2,500 hours of Arabic content today, going forward we plan to double the volume of the content in the Kingdom, the UAE and Bahrain,” he said.

The company is aiming to partner with Saudi producers, such as Jeddah-based AlSadaf Company for TV Series Production, YouTube multichannel network Merakatt and many more across Bahrain and the UAE.

StarzPlay said its market share of the video-on-demand subscription services sector in the Middle East is around 33 percent. While the number of Saudi subscribers has increased, users in the Kingdom are also some of their biggest TV watchers, binging an average of 51 minutes per day, compared to an average of 38 minutes across its entire platform.

Looking to the future, Sheikh said StarzPlay is aiming to grow by 30 percent in 2021, and he has ambitions to launch a stock market listing within the next few years. “The current projections for us are two to three years away. By then, we believe we will be well-financed and well-capitalized.”

Currently, StarzPlay reaches over 1.8 million paying subscribers and is installed on more than six million devices. Accounting for a market share of more than 32 percent, the platform recorded exceptional growth in 2020, with independent research showing a growth of 141 percent in the number of unique users last year, the company said in a statement on Wednesday.


Jordan public debt reached 85% of GDP in 2020

Jordan public debt reached 85% of GDP in 2020
Updated 5 min 38 sec ago

Jordan public debt reached 85% of GDP in 2020

Jordan public debt reached 85% of GDP in 2020
  • External debt reached 13.7 billion dinars in 2020

RIYADH: Jordanian public debt surged by 10.6 percent in 2020 to 26.50 billion dinars ($37.4 billion) as the government spent heavily to support its economy during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Jordan’s public debt ended 2020 at 85.4 percent of GDP, up from 75.8% a year earlier, according to Ministry of Finance data. The ministry recently changed its methodology for calculating public debt, excluding obligations from the Social Security Investment Fund, which amounted to 6.67 billion dinars.

The Hashemite Kingdom’s internal debt was 12.78 billion dinars last year, while external debt stood at 13.72 billion dinars, Ministry of Finance data show.

Unemployment rose to 25 percent in the fourth quarter of 2020, with youth unemployment reaching 55 percent, according to International Monetary Fund data.

Jordan responded “quickly and decisively” in its support of the economy during the COVID-19 pandemic and is making progress on its program of economic reforms, IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva said on Monday in a statement to mark the kingdom’s 100th year.

“Timely and targeted fiscal measures have helped protect jobs and the vulnerable, while equitable tax reforms – aimed at tackling evasion, closing loopholes, and broadening the tax base – have helped maintain debt sustainability,” Georgieva said.

However, the country must address high unemployment to deliver durable, jobs-rich and inclusive growth, she said.


Saudi Re aims to boost capital to fund domestic, overseas expansion plans

Fahad Al-Hesni, managing director and CEO of Saudi Re. (Supplied)
Fahad Al-Hesni, managing director and CEO of Saudi Re. (Supplied)
Updated 33 min 28 sec ago

Saudi Re aims to boost capital to fund domestic, overseas expansion plans

Fahad Al-Hesni, managing director and CEO of Saudi Re. (Supplied)
  • Despite a difficult year in 2020, Saudi Re recorded SR 60.7 million in net profit before zakat, an increase of 2 percent year-on-year

RIYADH: The Saudi Reinsurance Company (Saudi Re) on Thursday announced plans to increase its capital in order to fund its expansion plans.

Saudi Re’s board recommended increasing the company’s capital from SR 810 million ($216 million) to SR 891 million and converting SR 81 million of retained earnings into capital, giving the company an extra SR 162 million to finance its expansion plans.

Fahad Al-Hesni, managing director and CEO of Saudi Re, said in a statement: “The capital increase will strengthen Saudi Re’s capital base and support the expansion plans in the domestic and international markets. The board’s recommendation comes in line with Saudi Re’s effort to generate better returns and create a greater shareholder value.”

Despite a difficult year in 2020, Saudi Re recorded SR 60.7 million in net profit before zakat, an increase of 2 percent year-on-year.

At the same time, total assets increased 7 percent to SR 2.8 billion and total gross written premiums (GWPs) increased 18 percent to SR 935 million. International business made up the bulk of the GWP growth — up 25 percent year-on-year — while domestic business increased 8 percent.


Turkish central bank holds rates, drops policy pledge under new chief

Turkish central bank holds rates, drops policy pledge under new chief
Updated 51 min ago

Turkish central bank holds rates, drops policy pledge under new chief

Turkish central bank holds rates, drops policy pledge under new chief
  • Lira slips 0.7% on announcement
  • Inflation could reach 19% before mid-year

ISTANBUL: Turkey’s central bank held rates steady at 19 percent as expected on Thursday and dropped a pledge to tighten policy further if needed, in its first decision since President Tayyip Erdogan fired the hawkish former governor and sparked a market selloff.
In a statement, the bank also ditched last month’s pledge to “decisively” maintain a tight monetary policy “for an extended period” to address inflation, which has risen above 16 percent and been in double-digits for most of the last four years.
The lira slipped as much as 0.7 percent to 8.125 versus the dollar after the bank under new governor Sahap Kavcioglu replaced the hawkish guidance with a softer assessment of risks to inflation that analysts said signaled interest rate cuts were on the way.
Erdogan’s shock removal last month of Kavcioglu’s predecessor Naci Agbal, a respected policy hawk, sent foreign investors fleeing from Turkish assets on concerns that rates would be quickly slashed.
But Kavcioglu — who had previously criticized Agbal’s rate hikes — has since promised no abrupt changes. Those assurances as well as the more-than 10 percent lira selloff had convinced analysts that policy would remain steady for now.
The central bank said it maintained a tight stance in the face of lofty inflation expectations, adding rates would remain above inflation until it is clear that price pressure is easing.
John Hardy, FX strategy head at Saxo Bank, said the currency had weakened on Thursday because Agbal’s pledges were scrapped.
“Any daylight they see, they are going to want to cut rates. Holding them here (today) is just an acknowledgment they can’t get away with it for now,” he said.
In a Reuters poll, most economists had predicted no change to the one-week policy rate this week, but saw easing from around mid-year, to settle at 15 percent by year-end.
Last month, the central bank under Agbal had raised rates by a more-than-expected 200 basis points to levels last touched in mid-2019 to dampen inflation and support the currency.
Before taking the job, Kavcioglu had said such a policy was wrong for Turkey and also espoused Erdogan’s unorthodox view that high rates cause inflation.
Erdogan has repeatedly called for monetary stimulus to help the economic rebound. He has fired three bank chiefs in two years, eroding monetary credibility.
The lira plunged 15 percent immediately after Agbal’s dismissal before a rebound, and foreign investors dumped the most bonds and stocks in 15 years over the following week.
Depreciation boosts inflation via imports, delaying any rate cut plans, analysts say.
Inflation is expected to reach as much as 19 percent before mid-year. Yet few analysts see another rate hike given Erdogan’s repeated calls for stimulus — including one this month for single-digit rates.
The change in tone under Kavcioglu reflects “preparation being made to cut the policy rate,” said Haluk Burumcekci of Istanbul-based Burumcekci Consulting.
Ratings agencies say premature easing could again hammer the lira and raise risks of a balance-of-payments crisis given Turkey’s depleted FX reserves and its $160 billion in short-term foreign debt.
Citing sources, Reuters reported Erdogan ousted Agbal in part because he was uncomfortable with the bank’s investigation into some $128 billion in FX sales undertaken during his son-in-law Berat Albayrak’s stint as finance minister.


Emirates begins trials of IATA’s digital travel pass

Emirates begins trials of IATA’s digital travel pass
Updated 15 April 2021

Emirates begins trials of IATA’s digital travel pass

Emirates begins trials of IATA’s digital travel pass
  • Passengers from Dubai to Barcelona on flight EK 185 on Thursday trialed the travel pass

DUBAI: Dubai carrier Emirates airline has started testing the COVID-19 digital travel pass, a mobile application that will help passengers manage their necessary travel requirements amid heightened security due to the pandemic.

Passengers from Dubai to Barcelona on flight EK 185 on Thursday trialed the travel pass, according to a company statement.

“The ability to process passengers’ COVID-19 relevant data for travel digitally will be the way forward,” Adel Al-Redha, chief operating officer of Emirates, said, as the global aviation industry slowly gets back up from the pandemic slump.

The airlines partnered with the maker of the travel pass, the International Air Transport Association (IATA), to integrate the standardized process of verifying documents such as COVID-19 rest results and vaccination certificates into the airline’s operations.

The trial is ongoing on selected Emirates flights from the Dubai to Barcelona and London Heathrow to Dubai, and will be expanded soon to include other routes, the company said.

Other airlines in the region have teamed up with IATA to conduct trial runs of the application, including Saudi Arabia’s Saudia and Abu Dhabi’s Etihad Airways.


Moody’s warns on ESG risks for some structured finance assets

Moody’s warns on ESG risks for some structured finance assets
Updated 15 April 2021

Moody’s warns on ESG risks for some structured finance assets

Moody’s warns on ESG risks for some structured finance assets
  • Sustainable investing has become a hot topic in Gulf markets over the last year with increased awareness in part springing from the coronavirus pandemic

DUBAI: Changing regulations and consumer demand driven by environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues means that some structured finance asset classes are riskier than others, according to Moody’s Investors Service.

Aircraft and tobacco asset-backed securities (ABS) as well as project finance and infrastructure collateralized debt obligations (CDOs) have “moderate vulnerability” to environmental risk, while most other asset classes have “low” environmental risk, Moody’s wrote in a report.
Student loan asset-backed securities are the only structured finance sector with “high” social risk, it said.
“Environmental and social risks vary across structured finance asset classes, reflecting the sector’s diverse array of transaction types and assets,” according to Moody’s Vice President Inga Smolyar. “Governance considerations, in contrast, are generally issuer specific.”
Sustainable investing has become a hot topic in Gulf markets over the last year with increased awareness in part springing from the coronavirus pandemic. Demand for ethical and sustainable investments is now on the rise and increasingly being adopted by a wide range of investors from socially aware individuals to family offices and sovereign wealth funds.
The Future Investment Initiative Institute’s “The Neo-Renaissance: Mobilizing ESG for a Sustainable Future” conference takes place online today between 3.30 p.m. and 5.30 p.m. Riyadh time.
Several high profile regional business leaders are due to speak at the event including Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund Governor Yasir Al-Rumayyan who also chairs the institute.