UAE-based Starzplay, the Middle East and North Africa's fastest-growing video streaming service, will partner with the Abu Dhabi Investment Office (Adio) to establish its headquarters in the UAE capital.
The partnership is part of Adio’s Dh2 billion ($545 million) Innovation Programme, an initiative of the Abu Dhabi government’s Ghadan 21 accelerator programme.
Under the programme, Adio awarded Starzplay financial incentives, including rebates on high-skilled payroll, tech-related capital expenditure and other operating expenditure, according to a joint statement on Thursday. Non-financial incentives include help with establishing the headquarters and engaging with Abu Dhabi partners.
Setting up its headquarters in the UAE's capital will allow Starzplay to boost the production of regionally relevant original content for its audiences, the company said.
"With our new headquarters in Abu Dhabi, we are excited about producing more original content through enhanced media partnerships," Maaz Sheikh, chief executive and co-founder of Starzplay, said.
Abu Dhabi is planning to invest Dh22bn over the next five years in its cultural and creative industries as it seeks to reduce its economic reliance on oil, create new jobs and attract talent. The move comes as the emirate emerges from the Covid-19 pandemic with a sharper focus on high value-added sectors as it reduces its dependence on oil revenue.
"Abu Dhabi’s creative sector is rapidly taking shape with significant government investment, a steady flow of skilled talent and sound infrastructure to fuel the ambitions of creators and businesses," Tariq Bin Hendi, director general of Adio, said.
Adio's Innovation Programme targets companies and start-ups in sectors including ICT, financial services, health services and biopharma, agriculture technology and tourism.
"We are here to help businesses aligned with our vision and fast-track their progress through support for R&D, while ensuring they are suitably equipped to grow sustainably on the global stage," Mr Bin Hendi said.
Starzplay will build up partnerships with the emirate's media and creative companies to offer exclusive, in-demand content to its subscribers, according to the statement.
The company will partner with local production houses and animation studios to produce original content, particularly aimed at Arab youth, the region's biggest demographic. This builds on its existing tie-ups with Abu Dhabi Media, twofour54 and Image Nation Abu Dhabi.
As part of its partnership with Adio, Starzplay will build a private cloud in Abu Dhabi to meet the growing consumer demand in the region, according to the statement.
It will also offer its private cloud to other media companies as a fully managed and turnkey over-the-top (OTT) service.
To support its Abu Dhabi operations, Starzplay is also planning to build a technology team of artificial intelligence engineers and data scientists.
"Building the new cloud facility will bring us closer to our fans to serve them with a richer and more personalised experience," Mr Sheikh said.
In February, Starzplay secured $25m in debt financing from Abu Dhabi-based Ruya Partners, an independent alternative investment firm focused on private credit in developing markets, as the Covid-19 pandemic fuels demand for home entertainment.
The number of subscribers stands at just over 1.8 million in 20 countries, providing it with a 32 per cent market share of the subscription video on demand (SVOD) services in the Mena region.
Starzplay, which was founded in 2015, has secured $125m in equity funding through Starz, a Lionsgate company, State Street Global Advisers and technology investment firms SEQ Capital Partners and Delta Partners.