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.”