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Saudi Arabia leads streaming gains in Gulf Arab Nations

Saudi Arabia is leading the way as streaming platforms continue to gain traction in top Arab markets, where revenues from the SVOD market in 2021 grew a yearly 29% to $453 million.

New research from Media Partners Asia reveals that Saudi accounted for more than half of the revenues. However, the pay-TV sector in Gulf Arab states suffered a 10% drop in revenues to $631 million in 2021, compared with 2020.

The pay-TV sector in the region is now expected to further contract to $436 million by 2026, according to the report, which looks at streamers, pay TV and free TV across the six oil-rich Gulf Cooperation Council countries: Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

By contrast, SVOD revenue in the Gulf is projected to grow from its current level of $453 million to reach $667 million by 2026, “driven by improvements in connectivity, elevated levels of pay-TV cord cutting and the launch of new global platforms,” the report said.

While Saudi Arabia accounted for more than half of the Gulf’s $453 million SVOD intake, the UAE, despite having a much smaller population, generated $125 million, which is 28% of the region’s 2021 SVOD revenues.

Nevertheless, profitability “remains a challenge,” noted Media Partners analyst Aravind Venugopal, since competition will soon be steeped with more streamers set to enter what will soon become a crowded Arab streaming field.

The beIN-owned TOD service, Disney Plus and HBO Max are all planning to launch in the region over the next 12-24 months, and will be vying for subscribers with the likes of local services Shahid, Viu, OSN, and Starz Play Arabia, as well as with Netflix.

Like elsewhere around the world, the streamers — as they gain traction — are stepping up production of local originals and scaling up investment in Arabic-language content production.

Leading the way in ramping up production of high-end Arabic shows for premium streaming play are the local players. Dubai’s MBC-backed Shahid VIP platform and Hong Kong-based pan-regional service Viu have both produced some 25-30 Arabic originals since launch, according to the report. Shahid’s shows have included the first Arab post-apocalyptic drama “Hell’s Gate” (pictured above).

Netflix has also started to ramp up its Arabic originals output, with 2021 and 2022 starting to see a raft of new releases, including shows like “Al Rawabi School for Girls” and “Finding Ola,” toplining Cairo-based Tunisian star Hend Sabry as a happy divorcee who embarks on a journey of self-discovery.

Despite a late start, the Saudi-owned Jawwy TV streaming service has also been investing in original productions and acquisitions, with 18 titles to date, according to the report.

Meanwhile, investments by regional streamers Starz Play Arabia and OSN in Arabic-language content has slowly started up, “particularly as they look to slowly move away from the highly competitive English-language segment,” noted Media Partners analyst Myat Pan Phyu, who also pointed out that Arab SVOD platforms are leading the region’s transition from its longstanding cycle of Ramadan-heavy releases to year-long release schedules. Variety

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