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Fox launches TV streaming service with Saudi media group

Fox Networks has struck a deal with a Saudi media group to launch a new TV streaming service in the Middle E...

Posted: Nov 23, 2018 1:45 AM
Updated: Nov 23, 2018 1:45 AM

Fox Networks has struck a deal with a Saudi media group to launch a new TV streaming service in the Middle East and North Africa.

The subsidiary of 21st Century Fox (FOX) said in a statement that it was partnering with the region's biggest broadcaster, MBC, to bring Fox Plus to viewers.

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Fox's streaming service, which is already available in southeast Asia and parts of Latin America, will be offered in 24 countries on MBC's Shahid Plus platform.

Subscribers will pay $4.99 a month to access six categories of English-language entertainment from Fox Plus, including drama, kids TV and the National Geographic channel, as well as Arabic content from Shahid Plus.

Fox's deal follows a chill in relations between international media companies and Saudi Arabia after Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi was murdered by Saudi agents at the kingdom's consulate in Istanbul, Turkey.

Fox Business was among the media networks to pull its sponsorship from a huge investment conference in Riyadh last month, dubbed "Davos in the desert." Many investors and companies continue to give the kingdom a wide berth because of the lingering uncertainty over who was ultimately responsible for Khashoggi's death.

The Saudi government took control of MBC earlier this year following a crackdown on corruption that saw the arrest of hundreds of businessmen including MBC Chairman Waleed Al Ibrahim, according to a source familiar with the matter. Al Ibrahim was later released and retains a 40% stake, management control and his title as chairman.

Fox Networks, which will belong to Disney (DIS) when its acquisition of Fox's entertainment assets closes early next year, declined to comment on the Saudi government's ties to MBC.

Competition for the regional market of 300 million people is heating up. Netflix (NFLX), Malaysia's Iflix, and Dubai's Starz Play are all vying for dominance.

With the collaboration, MBC will add thousands of hours of streaming content to its existing platform.

"Streaming is going to be a major disruptor of consumption of content," said Sanjay Raina, general manager at Fox Networks Group."It's very important as a content company to have a foot in the door into that world."

Raina said better broadband capabilities in the region has helped streaming services grow, but payment systems remain a challenge. Credit card use in some parts is still "near zero," he told CNN Business.

Online video subscriptions in the Middle East and North Africa only surpassed one million last year. They are forecast to grow 34% per year to reach 5 million by 2022, according to IHS Markit.

"New services are coming up everyday. We have just seen the tip of the iceberg," Raina said.

The move by Fox comes just over a year after it added 3 new TV channels to its existing line up, including the first Fox-branded channel to broadcast in Arabic.

"Linear television platforms need to reinvent themselves, because a young consumer today has a choice, on mobile, on laptop, anywhere," Raina said.

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