UAE-based Starzplay, the Middle East and North Africa's fastest-growing video streaming service, attracted more subscribers and earned higher revenue last year driven by the addition of new sports content in September.
The platform's annual revenue grew 40 per cent in 2021, and it ended the year with 1.97 million subscribers, up from 1.83 million in 2020, and just below its target of 2 million subscribers, Maaz Sheikh, co-founder and chief executive of Starzplay, told The National on Thursday.
"2021 was a record year for us, in terms of revenue and subscriber base, as we continue to grow the business," Mr Sheikh said. "The fourth quarter was really strong because of the new sports channels."
Starzplay won exclusive rights for football competitions such as AFC Asian Cup and Fifa World Cup 2022 qualifiers, which led to an increase in its app downloads. It ranked first in the UAE entertainment chart and the overall chart for all categories within the UAE Apple App Store in the fourth quarter.
Starzplay is bullish about "another strong year" in 2022 as it seeks to add new sports events to its platform.
It also expects "high consumption" during the busy viewership month of Ramadan and plans to announce two to three new Arabic original content productions during the year, Mr Sheikh said.
"We are looking at another record year, we're a high-growth company and we're looking to set new records across our subscriber base and revenue," the chief executive said. "We're confident to beat last year's numbers."
The company is co-producing with Image Nation Abu Dhabi a new Arabic show called Urban Legends (an Arabic title is still in the works) that will be launched after Ramadan. The pan-regional show will weave urban legends from across the Arab world with the aim of "taking local stories and telling them on a global stage".
Starzplay also expects to make several sports content announcements in the coming months, in partnership with Abu Dhabi TV, as it looks to build on football and basketball offerings while cricket remains a strong draw, the executive said.
"Sports and original Arabic content is the theme of the year," Mr Sheikh said.
During the fourth quarter of 2021, Starzplay recorded a five-fold increase in the number of monthly subscribers, following the addition of new sports content in September, it said in a statement on Thursday.
Average revenue per user increased 30 per cent amid rising subscriptions to more sports packages, particularly Premier Sports League (live rugby) and the ICC Men’s T20 World Cup 2021.
During the UAE-Lebanon game in September, Starzplay said it set a record for the number of new subscribers and consumption as a measure of minutes spent on the platform, beating the previous peak posted in April 2020.
"We saw a 10-time lift in the number of new people who signed up for our entertainment service for that day of the Lebanon-UAE match. That was a surprising element for us," Mr Sheikh said.
Funds spent on marketing content and driving app downloads or traffic to the website can be re-directed to sports, as there is an organic demand created by events such as an India-Pakistan cricket match, he said.
A proportion of the subscribers who join for the sports content also sign up for entertainment packages.
"It has a viral effect, it builds awareness for us and takes us to a new audience that we previously hadn’t attracted," Mr Sheikh said.
Last year, Starzplay partnered 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.
Under the programme, Adio awarded Starzplay financial incentives, including rebates on high-skilled payroll, tech-related capital expenditure and other operating expenditure. Non-financial incentives included help with establishing the headquarters and engaging with Abu Dhabi partners.
The key is "developing the right content in partnership with key partners like Etisalat and Abu Dhabi TV", Mr Sheikh said on Thursday.
"For us, it's about digging deeper into the partnerships we have and unlocking value … together."