Exclusive: StarzPlay CEO shares unscripted strategy as MENA streamer orders football talent show

MENA streamer StarzPlay has commissioned The Italian Dream, a new sports-focused reality series, in partnership with Italian football league Lega Serie A, as it continues to push into unscripted originals.

The six-part show, which is being launched in partnership with healthcare platform PureHealth and media and entertainment studio Image Nation Abu Dhabi, will go in search of the region’s next young football star and give them a chance to play in the Italian league.

Footballing legends from Lega Serie A, to which StarzPlay holds MENA streaming rights, will participate in the show as mentors and guides for the competitors. The show will not only spotlight the participants’ exceptional football skills but also offer insights into their families, their aspirations, the importance of healthy living for sport and what Lega Serie A symbolizes for them.

Speaking to TBI about the new show, StarzPlay CEO Maaz Sheikh shared: “What we’ll be doing is scouting and recruiting the best of the best under 18 young adults from countries in the in the Arab world.

“We will do that with the help of the Italian league Serie A, and they are partners in this original production. With their support, we’ll bring them to Abu Dhabi, in the UAE, where these kids will live and train and develop – and then they’ll be competing against each other. The prize at the end is that the winner is guaranteed a spot by the Italian league to play for them.”

Million Dollar Listing UAE

Global ambitions

The commission of The Italian Dream comes as StarzPlay continues its push into original programming. It will be streamer’s third unscripted original, following the launch of a local version of Discovery’s Say Yes To The Dress in 2022 and, more recently, the debut of its UAE adaptation of NBCUniversal format Million Dollar Listing last week.

Speaking ahead of Million Dollar Listing UAE’s premiere, Sheikh told TBI: “This is our second reality format, but obviously much bigger as a format and a much more established franchise, following the success of Beverly Hills, New York and Los Angeles. It just made sense for the UAE given the focus of real estate and property development in this part of the world.”

He explained: “Real estate has been an important part of the fabric for last 20 plus years in the UAE… but it’s not just about relevance in this part of the world. It’s also about taking the show global.”

This focus on local shows with global appeal will be part of the streamer’s originals strategy going forward, revealed Sheikh: “When we look at successful formats, of course, our core audience is here, but we’re also looking to monetize, as well as take the show globally. So this would hold true for future formats that we look at. We would look to see if the show would travel beyond this region as well.

“So just like Million Dollar Listing Los Angeles, or New York, had a global appeal to it, we’ve seen tremendous demand from people living in other parts of the world who are quite interested in in seeing what all the excitement is about behind the UAE market.”

StarzPlay is aiming to launch 8-10 originals next year, with a 30/70 split weighted towards scripted content. As for future unscripted originals, Sheikh said that streamer is looking at several genres that have already proved popular on the service, such as car-focused series as well as fact-based shows with real-life drama.

“Johnny Depp’s court drama, the show that was created by Discovery+., Johnny Vs Amber, did really well for us. So those types of celebrity-related reality, or current events related shows, tend to do really well when it comes to unscripted.”

Most Recent