MBC boosts video on demand amid battle for Arabic content supremacy

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The Middle East market for subscription video on demand is becoming increasingly crowded, with global players coming up against Icflix, Starz Play, Iflix, Wavo and beIN. (Supplied Photo)
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Shahid will focus on creating its own episodic content rather than feature films
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MBC Digital Managing Director Johannes Larcher
Updated 18 June 2019

MBC boosts video on demand amid battle for Arabic content supremacy

  • Group hopes first drama series will give it an edge over global rivals Netflix and Amazon in Middle East battleground

LONDON: MBC Group is ramping up investment in its Arabic-language video-on-demand platform as the Middle East becomes a new battleground for global players from Netflix to Amazon.

The broadcaster is also targeting the Arab-speaking diaspora after recording a 42 percent spike in users from outside the region over the last year.

MBC Digital Managing Director Johannes Larcher said that the group will step up marketing efforts for its “Shahid” Arabic-language video-on-demand platform in the second half of the year as it shoots its first drama series that is due to air in 2020.

“We have viewers from North America to Europe who are Arab speakers and who want to use Shahid to stay in touch with their countries of origin and their culture,” Larcher told Arab News in an interview.

Its first homegrown Arabic-language drama is currently in production with more planned for next year. It comes as rival Netflix debuts its own Arabic-language drama. The first episode of “Jinn,” which has attracted controversy in Jordan over its portrayal of the country, aired on Netflix on June 13.

Larcher said that Shahid would focus on creating its own episodic content rather than feature films — with between eight and 13 episodes per season.

He said that a number of technical improvements had been made to the platform covering streaming, casting content from phone to television, and carrying high-definition video.

Subscription video on demand is expected to more than double in the Middle East and North Africa between 2018 and 2024, according to Digital TV Research. 

The market is becoming increasingly crowded, with global players such as Netflix and Amazon Prime Video competing against Icflix, Starz Play, Iflix, Wavo and beIN.

Despite rising competition from both global and regional players, Larcher believes MBC’s 30-year history of broadcasting in the region gives the company a competitive edge.

“We have been here for 30 years through our linear TV business, which is also doing well, and we really know the consumer here better than anyone else,”
he said. “At end of the day, that is what really matters — to create a service that consumers love and to bring them content they enjoy — so we feel good about our chances.”

BBC journalist defended amid Israel report controversy

Updated 5 min 30 sec ago

BBC journalist defended amid Israel report controversy

  • Broadcaster stands by Orla Guerin in face of anti-Semitism accusations

LONDON: The BBC is facing accusations of anti-Semitism over a primetime report on the 75th anniversary of the Holocaust that referred to Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians.

Journalist Orla Guerin — who has worked at the BBC since 1995 and is one of its most senior correspondents — made the reference at the end of her report from Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Jerusalem.

“In Yad Vashem’s Hall of Names, images of the dead. Young soldiers troop in to share in the binding tragedy of the Jewish people,” she said.

“The state of Israel is now a regional power. For decades, it has occupied Palestinian territories. But some here will always see their nation through the prism of persecution and survival.”

Some former BBC journalists and Jewish charities have condemned the remarks as anti-Semitic.

Danny Cohen, former BBC director of television, said the broadcast was “unnecessary, insensitive and particularly ugly in the days before Holocaust Memorial Day.”

Gideon Falter, chief executive of the Campaign Against Anti-Semitism (CAA), said in a statementthat the BBC had used a segment on the Holocaust “as a vehicle to desecrate” its memory “with her hatred of the Jewish state.”

But a former senior BBC correspondent, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Arab News: “It’s a tough subject to navigate, and no matter what you say about Israel, it’s going to upset somebody. People will always be upset if you try to link what’s going on in Palestine with the Holocaust. It’s somewhere you can’t go.”

The BBC “would’ve internally acknowledged that this could’ve been an issue, and they’ve chosen to run with it anyway,” he added.

“This would’ve been discussed before the film went out, because it’s a big point that she made.”

He said these pre-emptive discussions might explain the BBC’s stance in the face of criticism.

“This would’ve been looked at by lots of different people in the food chain, so she’s not on her own — this would’ve gone up to various different bosses. They would’ve signed it off,” he added.

The BBC has defended the broadcast. “The brief reference in our Holocaust report to Israel’s position today did not imply any comparison between the two, and nor would we want one to be drawn from our coverage,” said a spokeswoman.

In reaction to the accusations of anti-Semitism that Guerin has faced, the former senior BBC correspondent said: “Maybe it’s anti-Semitic, or maybe she’s making a point and you don’t like the point.”

The CAA has alleged that Guerin drew comparisons between Israel and the policies of the Nazis, but others have noted that there was no such comparison. 

Filmmaker Gary Sinyor wrote in the Jewish Chronicle that “she’s not comparing the Holocaust with the Palestinians.” 

He said Guerin made a juxtaposition between the view that some Israelis see their country through the prism of “persecution and survival” while it continues to oppress the Palestinians.

She produced a report “that reiterated the truth of the Holocaust, that addressed rising anti-Semitism, that movingly depicted a survivor from Belsen (concentration camp), that showed Israeli soldiers learning about the tragedy of their fellow Jews, that took up the last four-and-a-half minutes of the BBC’s main news bulletin the day before the actual memorial service, surely we can live that,” Sinyor added.“In fact, we should be grateful.”

Arab News contacted the CAA and asked what justification it had for the view that Guerin has a “hatred of the Jewish state.”

The CAA’s press officer said Falter’s accusation was proven by “20 years of her work,” before asking Arab News to contact them via email. No further comment was received.