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Disney+ takes on rivals in Middle East streaming market

FILE PHOTO: Smartphone with displayed "Disney" logo is seen on the keyboard in front of displayed "Streaming service" words in this illustration

By Yousef Saba

DUBAI (Reuters) - Disney+ launched its streaming service in the Middle East and North Africa on Wednesday, vying for market share in a region where the population is young but few people so far use such services.

Disney+ said it had gone live in 16 Arab countries and was tailoring content for the region, including offering Arabic subtitles on most offerings, particularly popular content.

Netflix currently leads in the region, with more than 6.8 million subscribers, according to Digital TV Research. Starzplay, an Abu Dhabi-based competitor, ranks second with just under 2 million, followed by Amazon with 1.4 million.

Some competitors offer original Arabic content. Netflix is already working on second seasons for its popular series "Al Rawabi School for Girls" and "Finding Ola".

MBC Group's streaming platform, Shahid, has ordered an Arabic version of British comedy "The Office". Regional competitor OSN has an Arabic version of U.S. legal series "Suits".

OSN previously had rights to carry Disney+ original content.

Starzplay is also working on original Arabic content, its CEO Maaz Sheikh told Reuters last week. He said the region had plenty of room for growth, since streaming penetration was 10%.

Digital TV Research forecasts that Netflix will grow its base to 11 million by 2027 and that Disney+ will by then take the second spot with nearly 6.5 million. Amazon is seen reaching 4.8 million subscribers by 2027 and Starzplay just under 3 million.

"In my opinion, Disney+ is entering the Middle East and North Africa region at a great time. Compared to other streaming markets, ours is still in early stages and we have the unique opportunity to grow along with it," Tamim Fares, Disney+ director for the region, told Reuters in an emailed statement.

At a Disney+ pre-launch event at Dubai Opera, Mohamed Diab, the Egyptian director of Marvel Studios' "Moon Knight", was promoting the original superhero series, which is making its regional debut.

His wife, Sarah Goher, was also a producer on the series, which features ancient Egyptian gods.

(The story has been refiled to correct spelling in paragraph 1)

(Reporting by Yousef Saba; Editing by Bradley Perrett and David Evans)