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.”


Algeria journalist acquitted after year in detention

Updated 23 September 2020

Algeria journalist acquitted after year in detention

ALGIERS: Algerian journalist Belkacem Djir, sentenced to three years’ jail in a common law case, was acquitted Wednesday and is expected to be released after over a year behind bars, his lawyer said.
“The Algiers court has announced that journalist Belkacem Djir has been acquitted,” Fatiha Rouibi wrote on Facebook.
Djir had been accused of using a “false identity” and “blackmail.”
No other information was available on the case against him, with lawyers refusing to discuss it publicly while acknowledging privately that his case was “sensitive.”
Djir, a 34-year-old journalist for private television channel Echourouk News, was detained in July 2019.
He is one of several Algerian journalists currently in prison.
They include Khaled Drareni, Casbah Tribune news website editor and correspondent for French-language TV5 Monde, and Abdelkrim Zeghileche, head of a web-based radio station.
They are being prosecuted in cases linked to “Hirak,” the anti-regime protest movement that began in February 2019.
Drareni was on September 15 handed a two-year jail sentence for his coverage of the movement that toppled Algeria’s longtime president Abdelaziz Bouteflika last year.
Zeghileche was sentenced in late August to two years in prison for “undermining national unity” and “insulting the head of state.”
A total of 61 people are currently behind bars for acts related to “Hirak,” according to CNLD, a rights group that lists prisoners of conscience in Algeria.