StarzPlay adds anime to library with TV Tokyo partnership

Maaz Sheikh is the co-founder and CEO of StarzPlay. (AN Photo)
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Maaz Sheikh is the co-founder and CEO of StarzPlay. (AN Photo)
StarzPlay adds anime to library with TV Tokyo partnership
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Maaz Sheikh is the co-founder and CEO of StarzPlay. (AN Photo)
StarzPlay adds anime to library with TV Tokyo partnership
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StarzPlay has added over a thousand episodes of anime content to its library for subscribers in the Middle East and North Africa region (MENA). (AN Photo)
StarzPlay adds anime to library with TV Tokyo partnership
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StarzPlay has added over a thousand episodes of anime content to its library for subscribers in the Middle East and North Africa region (MENA). (AN Photo)
StarzPlay adds anime to library with TV Tokyo partnership
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StarzPlay has added over a thousand episodes of anime content to its library for subscribers in the Middle East and North Africa region (MENA). (AN Photo)
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Updated 17 February 2021

StarzPlay adds anime to library with TV Tokyo partnership

StarzPlay adds anime to library with TV Tokyo partnership
  • TV Tokyo director Yukio Kawasaki: One of our differentiating strengths is the extensive line-up of anime series that we distribute, several of them having gained cult status
  • StarzPlay CEO Maaz Sheikh: We want to be the one-stop-shop for content in the MENA region and are confident of the growth in our subscriber base in 2021

DUBAI: Regional streaming service StarzPlay has signed a multi-year agreement with Japanese anime providers TV Tokyo, adding over a thousand episodes of anime content to its library for subscribers in the Middle East and North Africa region (MENA).

“The popularity of anime in the region, particularly in Saudi Arabia, is well-established. I recall an Arab News survey, which reported that 75 percent of respondents across age groups ranked one of the longest-running Japanese manga series as their favorite anime of all time. A Saudi-produced anime has also aired on Japanese TV in the past,” Maaz Sheikh, co-founder and CEO of StarzPlay, told Arab News.

The anime content includes such popular productions as “Naruto” and its sequel “Naruto Shippuden,” “Boruto: Naruto Next Generations” and “Fruits Basket.”

Yukio Kawasaki, director at TV Tokyo Corporation, said: “One of our differentiating strengths is the extensive line-up of anime series that we distribute, several of them having gained cult status and contributed to the global popularity of the genre.”

The partnership includes all episodes of the “Naruto” shows as well as new episodes of “Boruto: Naruto Next Generations” on a simulcast basis. The streaming service also has the rights to the third season of “Fruits Basket,” which is scheduled to release in April 2021.

StarzPlay has already announced two partnerships this year: Discovery+, which includes global shows like “Shark Week” and “Amy Schumer Learns to Cook (Uncensored),” as well as the full lineup of shows on the Arabic cooking channel Fatafeat; and Abu Dhabi Media to live-stream UFC content and events across the Middle East.

StarzPlay’s strategy this year includes such content partnerships to expand its offering, and it has resulted in positive growth in the first weeks of January, with numbers increasing three-fold from January 2019. Average daily consumption has risen to 110 minutes versus 35 minutes, according to Sheikh.

“We are looking at more strategic partnerships to offer diverse content to our subscribers,” added Sheikh. “We want to be the one-stop-shop for content in the MENA region and are confident of the growth in our subscriber base in 2021.”


Garena Free Fire wins over mobile gamers

Garena Free Fire wins over mobile gamers
Updated 21 April 2021

Garena Free Fire wins over mobile gamers

Garena Free Fire wins over mobile gamers
  • From tournaments and partnerships to a great gaming experience, Garena Free Fire ticks all the boxes

DUBAI: People spent an average of approximately 3.5 hours a day globally on their mobile phones in 2018. That is predicted to rise about 4 hours this year, according to Statista.

It’s unsurprising, given that more people use their mobile devices for everything from relaxing and socializing to shopping and even doctor’s visits — and that a significant portion of the time spent on mobiles is on gaming apps. In 2020, mobile playtime went up by 62 percent, according to Game Analytics, mostly as a result of COVID-19 lockdowns. Although gaming, in general, is more popular among younger audiences, mobile devices have opened up the arena to older audiences as well.

The increased time spent on mobile gaming – an estimated $85 billion industry – has encouraged developers to launch games that go beyond the puzzle game style popularized by the likes of Candy Crush.

One such game is Garena Free Fire. Launched in 2017, the battle royale style game shot to popularity in 2019 with the game achieving more than 100 million peak daily active users in 2020. It was the most downloaded mobile game worldwide both in 2019 and 2020, according to App Annie.

Battle royale games are multiplayer survival games that require players to eliminate other players to win. Since such games usually feature high-end graphics and animation, they’re better suited to bigger screens. However, Garena Free Fire was designed exclusively with the mobile gamer in mind, said Hans Saleh, Country Head for Garena, Middle East and North Africa (MENA).

The gaming market in the MENA region is full of potential. According to a Frost & Sullivan report, gaming in the MENA region is estimated to be worth $4.5 billion, with the number of gamers believed to be more than 100 million.

The report also found that Saudi Arabia ranked 19th in gaming revenues in 2019, while the UAE ranked 35th.

“Saudi is definitely one of the big markets, and so is the UAE. We are also seeing growth in Egypt. We are focusing on being closer to the gamers because it’s all about the user experience for us,” said Saleh.

The company conducted extensive research to get feedback on its product. Saleh attributes the popularity of the game to this user-centric approach. In fact, currently, Garena is in the process of beta testing a new version of the game called Garena Free Fire MAX, although there are no plans for a public launch yet.

Garena Free Fire-related content recorded more than 72 billion view counts across YouTube globally in 2020, making it the most viewed mobile-only video game globally on YouTube for both 2019 and 2020. It was also the third most viewed among all video games on YouTube in 2020.

The company is also promoting the game by building Garena Free Fire communities globally through grassroots events and influencer engagements; and through collaborations such as those with Netflix’s “Money Heist” and football superstar Cristiano Ronaldo.

To attract players in the region, Garena Free Fire recently announced a collaboration with Arab superstar Mohamed Ramadan. He will be introduced as an in-game character, becoming the first-ever playable Arab character in a battle royale game.

Another way of engaging gamers is through tournaments. The Free Fire World Series was launched in 2019 with a top prize of $200,000. “It gathers all the champions from different regions globally and they compete to become the world champion,” said Saleh.

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the World Series was converted to the Continental Series in 2020 with separate tournaments for America, Asia, and the Europe and Middle East and Africa (EMEA) region with a total prize pool of $900,000 divided among the three regions.

This year, Garena is launching a new format especially for the MENA region, which includes the launch of the Free Fire Arab League and Free Fire Arab Championship. The winners of the Arab Championship will be eligible to participate in the Arab League, the winners of which will then go on to represent the MENA region in the Free Fire World Series.

The Free Fire World Series 2021 will take place in May in Singapore and will feature a $2 million prize pool.

Garena believes that the new format can engage viewers and players, as well as being sustainably run for the foreseeable future, said Saleh.


Netflix shares tumble as subscriber growth cools

Netflix shares tumble as subscriber growth cools
This Aug. 13, 2020 photo shows a logo for Netflix on a remote control in Portland, Ore. (AP)
Updated 21 April 2021

Netflix shares tumble as subscriber growth cools

Netflix shares tumble as subscriber growth cools
  • Netflix executives had cautioned in past quarters that the pandemic fueled a surge in subscriptions, with people who would have eventually signed up jumping on board sooner than they might have

SAN FRANCISCO: Netflix shares plunged Tuesday after the leading streaming service reported cooling growth in paid subscriptions that had caught fire during the pandemic.
While revenue jumped 24 percent in the first quarter of this year when compared to the same period in 2020, paid memberships grew less than expected to 208 million, Netflix said in its quarterly earnings release.
New subscriber additions were some two million below Netflix's forecast.
"We believe paid membership growth slowed due to the big Covid-19 pull forward in 2020 and a lighter content slate in the first half of this year, due to Covid-19 production delays," executives said in the release.
Netflix reported profit was up to a stunning $1.7 billion on revenue of $7.2 billion, as subscribers weathered price increases.
The Silicon Valley-based company said it expected subscriber growth to accelerate anew later this year as it releases sequels to hit shows.
"We had those ten years where we were growing smooth as silk," Netflix chief executive Reed Hastings said on a streamed earnings call.
"It is just a little wobbly right now."
Netflix executives had cautioned in past quarters that the pandemic fueled a surge in subscriptions, with people who would have eventually signed up jumping on board sooner than they might have.
"We continue to anticipate a strong second half with the return of new seasons of some of our biggest hits and an exciting film lineup," Netflix said in an earnings letter.
A shift from traditional television to streamed services such as Netflix remains a clear trend, according to the company.
However, competition is also ramping up from Disney, Amazon and other titans.
"More and more new streaming services are launching, reinforcing our vision that linear TV will slowly give way to streaming entertainment," Netflix said.
"We're working as hard as ever to continually improve our service so that we are the best entertainment option available."
But the sharp deceleration suggested slower growth ahead from Netflix, sending shares down some 11 percent in after-hours trade.
Hastings said that competition in the streaming television market has been consistently fierce, with Amazon Prime and Hulu as rivals for more than a decade.
The cooling is a "sign that the world is coming back to more normal at the expense of Netflix," tweeted Gene Munster of the investment firm Loup Ventures. "We think the long-term growth is flattish."

Productions delays caused by the pandemic have resulted in the release of many original Netflix shows being delayed until the second half of this year, according to the company.
"While the roll out of vaccines is very uneven across the world, we are back up and producing safely in every major market, with the exception of Brazil and India," Netflix said.
The streaming television service expected to spend more than $17 billion on a wide range of content, much of it original.
New seasons of hit shows set for release later this year included Sex Education, The Witcher, La Casa de Papel (Money Heist), and You.
Original films slated to arrive included the finale to The Kissing Booth trilogy; Red Notice starring Gal Gadot, Dwayne Johnson and Ryan Reynolds, and Don't Look Up which has a cast including Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Cate Blanchett, Timothee Chalamet, and Meryl Streep.
Netflix is also investing in shows made by talent outside the US, finding "locally authentic stories" from around the world resonate with viewers.
"We're increasingly seeing that these local titles find significant audiences around the world, which supports our thesis that great stories are universal," Netflix said.,
Examples of recent local language hits included Lupin, a series based on French novels telling tales of a daring gentleman burglar, according to Netflix.
A second season of Lupin is due out later this year.


Samsung to launch remote control button for Shahid VIP

Sam Barnett, MBC GROUP CEO, and President of Samsung Electronics Middle East and North Africa Sungwan Myung. (Supplied)
Sam Barnett, MBC GROUP CEO, and President of Samsung Electronics Middle East and North Africa Sungwan Myung. (Supplied)
Updated 20 April 2021

Samsung to launch remote control button for Shahid VIP

Sam Barnett, MBC GROUP CEO, and President of Samsung Electronics Middle East and North Africa Sungwan Myung. (Supplied)
  • Shahid VIP becomes first MENA streaming service to have dedicated branded button on Samsung Smart TV remote controls

DUBAI: The premium subscription-based service of Shahid, and Samsung Electronics, have linked up to bring an exclusive Shahid VIP branded button to the new Samsung Smart TVs launched this year.

The partnership marks the first time a MENA-based streaming service will have its own branded button on a Samsung Smart TV remote control.

The South Korean multinational was also the first TV provider to launch Shahid VIP’s Smart TV app.

Buyers of the new Smart TVs might also have the chance to receive a free subscription to Shahid VIP.

Sam Barnett, CEO of MBC Group, said: “Two of the biggest brands in entertainment are coming together to provide a game-changing experience for at-home viewers.

“This is the first time Samsung has integrated a MENA-based streaming service on its TV remote. And this makes Shahid VIP easier to watch for an even bigger audience this year.”

Sungwan Myung, president of Samsung Electronics MENA, said: “It’s extremely exciting for us to be partnering with the region’s No. 1 broadcaster and the world’s leading Arabic streaming platform.

“Our partnership with Shahid VIP provides our users with an extensive library of premium content that caters to a variety of tastes.”


StarzPlay to broadcast new shows during Ramadan in partnership with Abu Dhabi Media

StarzPlay to broadcast new shows during Ramadan in partnership with Abu Dhabi Media
Updated 20 April 2021

StarzPlay to broadcast new shows during Ramadan in partnership with Abu Dhabi Media

StarzPlay to broadcast new shows during Ramadan in partnership with Abu Dhabi Media
  • StarzPlay subscribers will have access to a range of GCC and Arabic programming by the UAE media firm throughout Ramadan
  • Earlier this year, the companies collaborated to live-stream Ultimate Fighting Championship events across the MENA region

DUBAI: Abu Dhabi Media has extended its strategic agreement with StarzPlay to broadcast six new Arabic and GCC drama series during the holy month of Ramadan.

Earlier this year, the companies collaborated to live-stream Ultimate Fighting Championship events across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.

As part of the extended partnership, StarzPlay subscribers will have access to a range of GCC and Arabic programming by the UAE media firm throughout Ramadan.        

Abdul Raheem Al-Bateeh Al-Nuaimi, acting general manager of Abu Dhabi Media, said: “This ongoing agreement with StarzPlay is in line with Abu Dhabi Media’s commitment to strengthening the reach of our digital and entertainment content through strategic partnerships.”

The collaboration is also aimed at increasing digital engagement for Abu Dhabi Media’s Ramadan campaign “Hatha Waqtaha,” which features a line-up of programs and productions with Emirati, Gulf, and Arab stars, he added.

The titles on StarzPlay streaming throughout Ramadan include “A’liqoun,” “Bayn Anf w Shafatyn,” “Bukhour Al-qasa’ed,” “Nabd Mu’aqat,” and “Heen Ra’at.”

Khaled Benchouche, senior vice president for strategy and original content at StarzPlay, said: “We have recorded a growing demand for original Arabic programming and have steadily built our content library.

“With our new partnership with Abu Dhabi Media, we will have a wider breadth of some of the most popular Arabic programming and are delighted to bring this additional choice of quality programming during Ramadan.”


EXCLUSIVE: Jawwy TV subscribers get access to discovery+

EXCLUSIVE: Jawwy TV subscribers get access to discovery+
Updated 21 April 2021

EXCLUSIVE: Jawwy TV subscribers get access to discovery+

EXCLUSIVE: Jawwy TV subscribers get access to discovery+
  • Jamie Cooke, senior executive at Discovery Inc., discusses regional partnerships, group’s streaming ambitions

DUBAI: In January, as many businesses around the world grappled with the economic impacts of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, mass media company Discovery forged ahead with the global launch of its streaming platform discovery+.

In the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, discovery+ launched in the same month through a partnership with StarzPlay.

Then in February, Discovery signed a partnership with Saudi Telecom Co. (stc), through its media arm Intigral, to provide discovery+ content to Jawwy TV subscribers in a branded area on the platform. Users can sign up for the add-on subscription, which will be valid for 12 months.

The two companies also plan to make the discovery+ app available to stc’s mobile customers in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Bahrain as an added value to the existing service.

The partnership will come into effect on Wednesday when existing and new Jawwy TV subscribers can take advantage of a complimentary subscription to the discovery+ add-on.

Each month, new documentaries will be uploaded to the platform across content categories such as lifestyle and relationships, home and food, true crime, adventure and natural history, science, technology, and the environment.

Jamie Cooke, group senior vice president and general manager for Discovery Inc. in central eastern Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and Russia, told Arab News that there was no defining moment when Discovery – a traditional TV company – decided to launch a streaming service.

“We have known that we needed to make that shift as the whole industry is having to make. We have just been very mindful about when the right moment is,” he said.

Although the global launch of discovery+ only happened this year, it was being tested as “Dplay” in certain markets for more than five years.

Cooke pointed out that it had been a “gradual process” to put together all the parts to make the streaming platform a success, from gathering the right skill sets to experimenting with the kind of content.

“When we think about the streaming industry as a whole, it’s a very crowded environment where most players are competing for the same audience with the same kinds of content,” he added, referring to scripted shows that drive a lot of the streaming services.

“We had a very clear, consumer proposition, which is this idea of a definitive, non-fiction, real-life subscription streaming service. We took the best of what we are, which is the fact that we are a definitive destination for unscripted storytelling, and that’s what we need to focus on.”

That was also the driving force behind the company’s strategy to form partnerships instead of launching as an independent platform.

“The key to our success will be partnerships,” said Cooke, who noted that discovery+ had linked up with Verizon in the US, Sky in the UK, and Vodafone across parts of Europe. There was “great power” in partnerships, he added, because “they bring a lot of subscribers, and we bring a lot of services.”

The company’s current priority was to focus on existing partnerships in the MENA region and get them to work, but it was open to looking at other regional partnerships in the future.

The streaming platform is forming two kinds of partnerships: Telecom providers and streaming platforms. For now, Cooke is “agnostic” on whether one is better than the other as the streaming service only started in January. “It is just about putting our content where consumers are,” he said.

In the MENA region, in particular, he pointed out that while Discovery had a good brand presence it did not have a subscriber base from a digital point of view, which explained the partnership with StarzPlay.

He added that people were spending more than 50 percent of their time watching unscripted content, and “we are the world’s leading provider of unscripted content. So, why would we set ourselves up as a competing service when actually we’re kind of complementary?”

Discovery also recently extended its partnership with beIN across the region for its linear channel service.

Although headlines often indicated that television was dead or dying, that was not actually the case, said Cooke. Last year was the channel’s best ever globally for the linear portfolio audience, up 10 percent year-on-year, and audience growth exceeded the rise in total TV viewing.

And Discovery’s partnership with Jawwy included seven of its international linear channels: Discovery Channel, Fatafeat, TLC, Discovery Family, Animal Planet, Discovery Science, and Investigation Discovery, with more channels coming available in the near future.

“The lines between what is television and streaming are getting increasingly blurred,” Cooke added.

Streaming services can have 24/7 or scheduled channels on their platforms too.

For instance, Fatafeat launched its app in Saudi Arabia last month featuring a live feed so users could watch programs at the same time as they aired on television. This was the first time in the brand’s history that the channel had been made available in a mobile format.

The move was in line with Cooke’s belief that there was an opportunity for a hybrid version that combined traditional TV channels within a streaming environment.

He said: “We have rebranded ‘Genius Kitchen’ (app) to Fatafeat and we’ve put the linear channels inside the app. We are looking to hopefully have a lot of growth with that through Ramadan.”

 

BIO: Jamie Cooke

 Jamie Cooke was appointed in October 2020 as general manager for Discovery’s business in central eastern Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and Russia.

He is also responsible for running the majority of Discovery’s pay TV channels throughout Europe, the Middle East, and Africa (EMEA) as a whole. Cooke has worked at Discovery for a number of years in EMEA roles, most recently as chief of staff for the EMEA region working on multimarket projects as well as leading the regional people and culture function.

He is experienced in the telecommunications industry across EMEA, having been heavily involved in strategy and transformation projects for Discovery.

His background is in human resources having worked with Discovery management to build the operations, teams, and culture across EMEA over the last 10 years, with a particular focus on acquisitions and integrations. Cooke has a bachelor’s degree in archaeology and is a qualified executive coach.