Dubai-based subscription video on demand service Starzplay has revealed plans to bolster its Arabic content after securing its first independent debt financing of around $25 million from Abu Dhabi’s Ruya Partners.

Starzplay CEO Maaz Sheikh told Arabian Business the funding would go a long way to achieving their target of raising subscriber numbers from the current 1.83 million, up towards the four and five million mark.

He said: “Over the years, we started off with a focus on Hollywood and making premium Hollywood content affordable. That’s where we saw the low-hanging fruit, the early adopter opportunity and really that leadership in Hollywood content has got us to the current growth in subscribers.

“But we also realised that going from this number and getting to the four or five million subscriber-mark in the next four years is going to require for us to expand our offering to include Arabic as well.

“The big part of this investment is to help our growth in offering Arabic content, both licensed as well as originals. Today we carry almost 2,500 hours of Arabic content and it’s mostly licensed from our partners in the UAE, Saudi and Egypt.

“We’re going to, not only increase our licensing capacity of Arabic content, but we will also be more active in producing home-grown originals from the region, especially in the UAE.”

Maaz Sheikh
co-founder and CEO of Starzplay

Accounting for a market share of more than 32 percent, Starzplay, which was founded in 2015, saw its number of unique users increase by 141 percent during last year, as various lockdown measures and curfews saw more and more people turn towards streaming services for entertainment.

“We strongly believe that as good as the last five years has been, the next five years are going to be even better,” said Sheikh.

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“When it comes to streaming and the consumption of media in this part of the world, we are just scratching the surface. We are strong believers in tremendous growth that’s yet to come and we felt that it was important that we set up the company for that growth and set up to scale for this coming demand and continue to grow our business,” he added.

Sheikh said: “We live in strange times. On one hand Wall Street’s doing really well, on the other hand, the unemployment rates are through the roof. The overall global economy is still very fragmented to say the least. We look around and we see the difficulties other companies are having raising capital and we feel very fortunate to be able to secure not only credit financing, but to be able to secure this kind of credit limit and this size of financing. We’re very fortunate with that.”

Ruya Partners is an independent alternative investment firm focused on private credit investments in developing markets. The firm, headquartered in the Abu Dhabi Global Market, is a portfolio investment of Abu Dhabi Catalyst Partners, a joint venture between Mubadala Investment Company and Falcon Edge Capital.

Mirza Beg, co-founder and managing partner of Ruya Partners, said the deal was almost two years in the making, which included eight months of due diligence on the company.

“We clearly like the space a lot. Streaming is the way of the future and certainly how the company has performed throughout the pandemic and the usage that it has seen, is a big validation of the business model,” said Beg.

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“We feel very good about our investment and especially supporting this management team.”

Rashid Siddiqi, co-founder and managing partner of Ruya Partners, added: “The financing for Starzplay is one of our first major investments in the tech sector in UAE. As a homegrown brand, Starzplay has disrupted the market and meets the increase in demand for home entertainment. The financing reflects our strategy of backing businesses with strong fundamentals and management teams that have a proven track of executing to plan and delivering long-term value.”

While Sheikh said the investment would be an integral part of the company’s strategy towards launching an IPO in the next “three or four years”.

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