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.”


MBC hires Marc Antoine d’Halluin as new CEO

Updated 10 December 2019

MBC hires Marc Antoine d’Halluin as new CEO

  • Appointment comes as Saudi-owned broadcaster launches video-on-demand “Shahid” platform

LONDON: Saudi-owned broadcaster MBC has hired Marc Antoine d’Halluin as its new CEO following the departure of veteran broadcaster Sam Barnett.

MBC founder Waleed Al-Ibrahim said his new CEO would drive forward the company’s five-year growth plan announced last year and which has a heavy emphasis on developing video on demand (VOD) content.

D’Halluin started his career at Sony Pictures Entertainment and prior to joining MBC Group was the chairman of the Luxembourg-based M7 Group, which operates satellite pay TV in Holland, Belgium, Austria, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania. M7 Group was recently sold to Vivendi’s Canal+ Group.

Regional broadcasters including MBC are facing increasing competition from new arrivals to the region in the rapidly growing video on demand sector, dominated by Netflix and Amazon.

In response, MBC Group is ramping up investment in its own Arabic-language VOD platform while also targeting the Arab-speaking diaspora.

FASTFACT

MBC was the first private free-to-air Arab satellite TV channel.

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. 

Last month, MBC’s VOD platform, known as “Shahid” announced the launch of its first-ever original production. Titled “ElDiva,” the drama series stars Cyrine Abdel Nour in the lead role, alongside actor Yacob Alfarhan, and the Egyptian folk singer and actress, Bosy. 

“MBC was the first major media company in the region to launch a VOD platform,” said Shahid managing director Johannes Larcher at the time of the launch

“Nearly all the international giants of entertainment have turned or are turning their attention to this type of ‘digital first’ content.”

MBC Group originally launched in London in 1991 as the first private free-to-air Arab satellite TV channel and moved to Dubai in 2002. Today it includes a number of leading channels that include the 24-hour Arabic news channel Al Arabiya.