Why streaming is the future of TV in the Middle East

Starz Play's Maaz Sheikh wants to produce an original Arabic series that brings the region's cultural tales to global audience
Why streaming is the future of TV in the Middle East
Maaz Sheikh, co-founder and CEO, Starzplay.
By Shayan Shakeel
Wed 22 Aug 2018 09:37 AM

Is there a moonshot idea that you are currently intrigued by? Are there any you are pursuing in your business?

We want to produce an original Arabic series that brings this region’s cultural tales to global audience.  The series will be a pop culture phenomenon that will captivate audience in all parts of the world.

What does diversity mean in your organisation?

For Starz Play, diversity ranges from ethnicity to professional experiences to educational background. Given we are headquartered in Dubai we are blessed to have access to a very diverse talent pool. We also have technology development offices in Madrid, Spain and Lahore, Pakistan, that give us access to an additional pool of diverse skill sets.

Our organisation has over 22 different nationalities and we have colleagues that previously worked in Middle-East, Europe, US, and Africa.  The range of experience covers not only the media and entertainment sectors, but in fact our team members have gained their knowledge and expertise from industries such as e-commerce, online travel, hospitality, telecom and banking.

How are you keeping up with the rapid pace of change?

As a company we are extremely bullish and positive about the long-term outlook of MENA region and our industry.  Our product is a very affordable form of high-quality entertainment that has been immune to economic or geopolitical challenges. Where global companies might see challenges and uncertainty, we see opportunity and hope.

Where do great ideas come from?

With such a diverse collection of people from all walks of life we find that creativity isn’t hard to come by. We have a long list of great features we’re eager to roll out to our members born out of the inquisitive minds of our team. Nascent ideas are nurtured and begin to take root as potential hits on our service.

We have many forms of feedback that our product teams manage to fruition from customer services teams that sit on the front lines and are exposed first hand to feedback from members to our admin staff who overhear avid streaming video aficionados on the metro discussing ideas on streaming quality. We’re attuned to accepting creative thinking from all quarters.

How do you encourage creative thinking within your organisation?

When all employees are actual shareholders in the company, as is the case with Starz Play, everyone is super motivated to contribute. The creative mindset is intrinsically embedded into the psyche of each employee and I’m always proud to hear the team talk passionately about possible new features, even if it’s around the water cooler or playing ping pong during lunch breaks.

Do you believe social networking has impacted your organisation or yourself, personally? Are there any tips you can share?

Whether you’re for or against it, there is no denying that social media has made a global impact over the last decade.

At Starz Play, social media has evolved into a ‘must have’ simply because upcoming generations won’t even know a world where social media does not exist. We use it to recruit new hires, engage with customers, advertise our product, amplify our content and so much more. The possibilities are endless and we’re constantly adopting new strategies and embracing new tools and features.

For me, the most influential aspect of social media, at least so far, is targeted advertising. Never before in the history of the business world has it been possible to advertise to a specific set of parameters. It’s incredibly powerful – and cost effective.

Can you name a person who has had an impact on you as a leader? Why/how did this person impact your life?

My father has had the most profound impact on my personal and professional life.  He was working as a chemical engineer during the 1970s, as they set-up a cooking oil plant in Dubai. He would often explain me how this was a “cutting edge” project and one of the most modern cooking oil plants in the region. His work ethic, communication skills and empathetic attitude towards his co-workers left a lasting impact on my personality.

Forty years later, just ten kilometres from his office, I feel blessed to be given this opportunity to be part of another cutting-edge project in Dubai. And I can only hope and pray that the Starz Play brand will continue to live and thrive for decades to come just as his company’s brand continues to thrive in the region – and in my kitchen at home.

What do you value the most – education or experience?

I value experience over education.

I think having a relevant education, especially for fields like technology or legal affairs, is obviously required especially as one starts their work life.  But overtime, quality and relevance of experience become more important over education.  In the long run, there are many variables including luck that play a role in a person’s professional progression. But generally speaking, I think personal qualities like overall optimistic attitude, the ability to take risks, persistence in face of failure, a hunger to succeed, and humility to learn or accept mistakes usually sets successful people apart.

People who are able to connect their professional lives with a deeper purpose or life mission are able bring such qualities to work consistently. Without the deep-rooted purpose or passion, people can run out of energy or lose patience as they hit stumbling blocks in their lives.

What’s one mistake that leaders make more frequently than others?

For most of us, our strengths become our weaknesses when they go out of balance. Traits like self-belief and conviction, which are necessary to lead, can turn into pride and arrogance which eventually leads to flawed decision making. We have all seen several examples of founders or CEOs that have built very successful companies creating tremendous value for all stakeholders but the same CEO has eventually been blamed for destroying the company.

Quote to live your life by?

“It’s never too late to dream big” –Saeed Sheikh (my Dad)

What advice would you give to your 18-year-old self?

Worry less. Take more risks. Become an entrepreneur early in life.

Do you have any daily rituals?

I go to the gym every morning and see my kids off before they go to school. The gym helps me get energised for the day and I reflect on important matters while I workout. Seeing my kids in the morning puts everything in perspective. It is a reminder of the deeper purpose and mission in my life.

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