DUBAI: Whether it’s allowing users to binge-watch an old series or offering the latest episode of a new one, streaming services have evolved their content models to cater to every kind of viewer.
UAE-based streaming service STARZPLAY, for instance, has added anime content, a Turkish add-on channel, exclusive sports partnerships and more in the past year alone.
Arab News spoke to Nadim Dada, VP of Content Acquisitions at the service, about how STARZPLAY changed its content strategy during the busiest time of the year for viewers and media companies, Ramadan, and with what results.
Can you tell us about viewing habits on the platform?
Usually, outside of Ramadan, consumption trends are very series-heavy due to the nature of binge-watching where people line up a show and watch it back to back. Those trends are specific to days of the week so some subscribers prefer to only binge during the weekend and their weekdays are empty; other users choose a specific day of the week, and some spread them out across the week but don’t watch over the weekend. This is what we refer to as an “anchored slot” or “anchored viewing pattern” where users decide a specific time of the week to binge-watch their TV show.
Obviously, users also watch movies. Looking at the overall percentage of series to movies, somewhere between 75 to 80 percent of our viewers are watching series over movies.
How did these consumption and viewing patterns change during Ramadan?
There were two main changes that took place. The first is that the same patterns were amplified and there’s usually a significant uplift in consumption. For example, this year there was an uplift in consumption by 22 percent during Ramadan.
People still have their specific preferences but that tends to be amplified. For instance, we have Western series boxsets and Arabic series boxsets, so we see users consume more of the Arabic series boxsets, while still continuing to consume the Western boxsets.
The other thing that we saw is that the anchored time changes. The majority of users tend to watch every day of the week rather than accumulating all that time on a specific day, so the viewing is spread throughout the week and eventually the month.
That’s due to the fact that we offer a lot of content and follow the day and date model, which means we release an episode at the same time as the exhibitor or broadcaster. So, we are programming content in such a way that the user has to come back every day to watch the next episode. One such example is “Bab Al-Hara” — we streamed the latest season of that during Ramadan following the same model.
Is this something you do outside of Ramadan?
We do, so for example we have “This Is Us” and “Your Honor” starring Breaking Bad star Bryan Cranston but that has new episodes out every week. In Ramadan, it’s more amplified.
How much new content did you add during Ramadan?
We added more than 50 to 55 assets during Ramadan but it’s less about the volume and more about how we capture our users. We have broken up the new content we added into three categories: Arabic, Western and Turkish.
In terms of volume, Turkish was perhaps the biggest category and there was a significant push from us on Turkish series. The day and date pattern works very well so we started releasing Turkish series at the same time as the exhibitor channel in Turkey.
(The platform also partnered with Turkey’s first and largest local subscription video-on-demand (SVOD) service BluTV, as well as MISTCO, an international brand management and content distribution agency, and Calinos, an Istanbul-headquartered company that distributes Turkish series, movies and TV programs across international platforms.)
We also added a strong amount of Arabic series but this year we were a bit careful about how we did that. Instead of volume, we concentrated on the habits and preferences of the user to acquire content that’s closer to their preferences. For example, one of the strongest Western series on our platform is “Grey’s Anatomy” and it continues to be in the top 10 list of assets on our platform. So for Ramadan, we went hunting for a series that captures that medical drama with a relationship/family drama element, and we were able to do that with one called “Nabd Mu’aqat.”
We also worked on adding new shows during Ramadan, including anime content, which followed the day and date model, and that has proven to be really successful on our platform.
Last year, there was quite a surge in subscriptions with people signing up to new services as they stayed home and that was followed by a churn (subscribers leaving) as things opened up. How did that play into Ramadan viewing habits?
During last year’s lockdown, there was quite a significant uptake in sign-ups, conversions and consumption. So, we worked very hard to make sure that we kept as many subscribers on board. All in all, we have done quite a good job by adding a lot of content users like, such as library comedy boxsets including “Frasier” and “Everybody Loves Raymond.” With that influx of new subscribers, we got an influx of data to analyze and to look at what people prefer at a larger volume and then we were able to carefully acquire the content that matches their preferences.