Online movie-streaming platform to launch in the UAE

US firm Starz Play is breaking new ground in the Emirates by offering subscribers exclusive online content and access to more than 3,000 films and box sets for a Dh50 a month subscription.

Martin Freeman as insurance salesman Lester Nygaard in a scene from Fargo, a thriller series that will be available on the new service. Chris Large / AP Photo / FX
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DUBAI // An online movie provider to rival giants such as Netflix will be launched in the UAE this month.

US company Starz Play is breaking ground in the country by offering subscribers access to more than 3,000 films and series for a Dh50 a month subscription.

With 57 million viewers signed up in the US, the firm hopes the platform, which is already available, will be a hit here.

Its Middle East service, streamed to 17 countries across the region, says 99 per cent of content is uncensored and can be viewed without a Virtual Private Network, or VPN.

VPNs, through which a computer is linked to overseas servers, are necessary for viewing Netflix and other services not yet available in the UAE.

Iron Man 3 and The Hobbit are some of the more recent films offered, and box-set series such as Fargo, Penny Dreadful and Spartacus are also available.

A free month’s trial is offered to new subscribers and there is no contract. Viewers can cancel subscriptions at any time.

Maaz Sheikh, president of Starz Play, said the service was a first for the region.

“Our technology is optimised for this region, so you do not have to use a VPN to view the content,” said Mr Sheikh, who was born in Dubai. “It is designed to work in this area so you can change the language during the film if you want to.”

He said movies that did not make it to UAE cinemas, such as Fifty Shades of Grey, would not be restricted by Starz Play.

“Our content is not exactly the same as the US as content rights here are actually better,” Mr Sheikh said. “There will be very few extreme cases where we might take a version of content in the US that is slightly edited for network television but 99 per cent of our content will be unedited.

“When we are entering such a strong region as this, with so many smartphones and tablets and with no other service like this, we would be foolish not to expect competition to grow. We are preparing for other players to join the market, so we have focused on locking in content on an exclusive basis as much as possible.”

It is hoped that exclusive content will help the platform acquire new subscriptions. Mr Sheikh gave the example of House of Cards, the award-winning political drama starring Kevin Spacey, which has boosted the profile and subscriber numbers of Netflix.

Bloodline is an exclusive Starz Play series about a tight-knit family in Florida that harbours a dark secret, and is expected to be popular.

The platform is available on PCs and Macs, iPhones, iPads, Android-operated systems and other devices, with up to five devices registered for each subscription and the ability to watch on any two at the same time. There are also parental control functions.

“This is the first time a Starz-branded service has been launched outside of the US,” Starz Play chief executive Chris Albrecht said.