MBC plots Netflix-style original content

The free-to-air satellite network MBC aims to strengthen its digital footprint across the Middle East. Above, MBC’s headquarters in Dubai. (AP)
Updated 09 January 2019
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MBC plots Netflix-style original content

  • Region’s biggest broadcaster throws down gauntlet to streaming giant Netflix with plans for new-look digital offering
  • Saudi backed-group has hired former Hulu executive Johannes Larcher, who joins as managing director of digital and video on demand

LONDON: MBC Group, the region’s biggest broadcaster, is going head to head with Netflix across the Arab world as it prepares to roll out original shows on demand.
The Saudi backed-group has hired former Hulu executive Johannes Larcher, who joins as managing director of digital and video on demand, with a remit to enhance the group’s entire digital offering.
His focus will be to develop the broadcaster’s “Shahid” and “Shahid Plus” video-on-demand platforms.
It is part of a five-year growth plan for the free-to-air satellite network which aims to strengthen its digital footprint across the Middle East.
But while producing original dramas on a video-on-demand basis draws obvious comparisons with Netflix, Larcher said there were also key differences.
“Netflix is active in the market, but they tend to produce content with global appeal. Shahid will focus on creating originals that are culturally relevant, thus leveraging MBC’s brand equity and long-establish privileged relationships with Arab audiences,” he said in an interview with Arab News.
“It will be interesting to see how this plays out, but we believe we have strong advantages in this area.”

 

Larcher revealed that there would be a strong focus on Arabic drama soaps in its originally produced content.
With so much free-to-air content available to Arab audiences, paid-for viewing can be more challenging than in other markets. However, the arrival of video-on-demand providers, such as Netflix and Starz Play, is rapidly changing the market.
“While the MENA region has a strong free-to-air TV landscape, led by MBC, and piracy remains an issue, we have found that
with the right offer, large numbers of viewers are willing to subscribe against premium content and special offerings,” said Larcher.
Regional and global broadcasters are being forced to respond to rapidly changing media consumption trends.
Digital news channels are increasingly competing with traditional broadcasters for the attention of audiences who are as likely to get their news from their phones as their televisions.
The Middle East is expected to have 390 million Internet users and six to seven connected devices per household to reach 545 million devices by 2020, primarily from the GCC, according to Deloitte.
“We reach 140 million viewers every day across the Middle East, both through our satellite television channels and online through our video-on-demand service. And as audience habits evolve we are evolving with them,” said MBC Group CEO Sam Barnett.
Netflix, the global number one video-on-demand provider, last February revealed plans for its first Arabic original series, called “Jinn.”

FASTFACTS

140 million - MBC Group’s estimated regional audience.


Despite setbacks, Arab summit at media forefront

Updated 20 January 2019
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Despite setbacks, Arab summit at media forefront

  • Japanese journalist says they have to cover the summit because the Mideast region is too important for Japan
  • TV, print and radio journalists were given the necessary equipment and space to allow constant reporting of the summit’s opening remarks

BEIRUT: Journalists from across the world gathered in Lebanon’s Beirut Waterfront to cover the Arab Economic and Social Development Summit on Sunday despite the tumultuous days leading up to the event.

It was not just Arab and Middle Eastern journalists who were present at the summit’s official media center; reporters from Japan, Europe and the US were also in attendance. 

There were conflicting reports on the number of journalists attending, ranging from 600 to double that. The summit’s official spokesman Dany Najim said 1,200 journalists covered the event. 

In addition to journalists working with news organizations and institutions were those traveling as part of country delegations. 

The Arab League sent 11 journalists, while official numbers put an average of 10 journalists per delegation. 

“We must cover the summit. The region is very important to us. It’s where we buy oil and gas,” said a Japanese journalist.

TV, print and radio journalists were given the necessary equipment and space to allow constant reporting of the summit’s opening remarks. While they were placed in a hall adjacent to the main summit meeting room, two large screens were continuously airing the summit’s activities and talks.

Rigid security protocols were in place for the safety of attending delegations. Roads starting from Beirut’s Phoenicia Hotel in Minet Al-Hosn district all the way to Al-Nahar newspaper’s offices in Martyrs’ Square were closed as part of a security zone. 

Transportation of journalists was organized by the summit, where a bus was available round the clock to pick them up and take them to the Monroe Hotel — the media hub for the summit — in Minet Al-Hosn, before taking another bus to the Beirut Waterfront.

Several stores and restaurants were forced to shut for the days of the summit, while some issued mass text messages to the public to announce that they will stay open.

This is the fourth Arab Economic and Social Development Summit. The previous ones were hosted by Kuwait in 2009, Egypt in 2011, and Saudi Arabia in 2013.