In May 2017, Iflix Arabia became the latest in a line of players to enter the video-streaming market in the Middle East, aiming to capitalise on the region’s ravenous appetite for entertainment, increasing broadband penetration, and demographic demand for digital streaming.
Although the Middle East represents a growth opportunity for streaming services, the region presents challenges, such as low credit card penetration which hinders regular billing, and a dearth of Arabic-language content from Western media houses.
However, companies are addressing these issues to better compete.
Iflix Arabia is a joint venture between Iflix and Kuwait-based operator Zain.
It joins Netflix, Amazon, Icflix, and Starz Play, all recently launching video-streaming services in the area. Meanwhile, tradition TV giants of the region, have also begun offering streaming services.
Netflix’s much-awaited global launch in 2016 included all the markets in the Middle East except for Syria due to US government restrictions.
It was accompanied by a serious pushback from Netflix against users using VPN to watch their shows.
However, Netflix’s content offering in the Middle East is limited due to licensing constraints. As a result, and despite Netflix’s brand power, it faces significant competition from other players who offer a richer portfolio of Arabic content.
MBC, for example, the Middle East equivalent of BBC, offers Shahid Plus as a streaming service, which is a portal to a number of MBC’s enormously popular TV shows.
MBC has been partnering with telecommunications operators in the region, such as Viva Bahrain, Orange Tunisia, and Ooredoo Qatar.
Starz Play, a subsidiary of US-based Starz, launched in 2015. Its content is Hollywood-heavy, and it has partnered with operators such as Vodafone Egypt and Maroc Telecom in Morocco.
There’s huge scope for growth in the Middle East.
But to crack the market service providers will need to provide smooth billing processes, and also provide the right blend of international and local content to attract customers, who have more and more providers to choose from.