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.”