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.”


Google CEO calls for regulation of artificial intelligence

Updated 20 January 2020

Google CEO calls for regulation of artificial intelligence

  • Sundar Pichai’s comments come as lawmakers and governments seriously consider putting limits on how artificial intelligence is used
  • Pichai’s comments suggest the company may be hoping to head off a broad-based crackdown by the EU on the technology

LONDON: Google’s chief executive called Monday for a balanced approach to regulating artificial intelligence, telling a European audience that the technology brings benefits but also “negative consequences.”

Sundar Pichai’s comments come as lawmakers and governments seriously consider putting limits on how artificial intelligence is used.

“There is no question in my mind that artificial intelligence needs to be regulated. The question is how best to approach this,” Pichai said, according to a transcript of his speech at a Brussel-based think tank.

He noted that there’s an important role for governments to play and that as the European Union and the US start drawing up their own approaches to regulation, “international alignment” of any eventual rules will be critical. He did not provide specific proposals.

Pichai spoke on the same day he was scheduled to meet the EU’s powerful competition regulator, Margrethe Vestager.

Vestager has in previous years hit the Silicon Valley giant with multibillion-dollar fines for allegedly abusing its market dominance to choke off competition. After being reappointed for a second term last autumn with expanded powers over digital technology policies, Vestager has now set her sights on artificial intelligence, and is drawing up rules on its ethical use.

Pichai’s comments suggest the company may be hoping to head off a broad-based crackdown by the EU on the technology. Vestager and the EU have been the among the more aggressive regulators of big tech firms, an approach US authorities have picked up with investigations into the dominance of companies like Google, Facebook and Amazon.

“Sensible regulation must also take a proportionate approach, balancing potential harms with social opportunities,” he said, adding that it could incorporate existing standards like Europe’s tough General Data Protection Regulation rather than starting from scratch.

While it promises big benefits, he raised concerns about potential downsides of artificial intelligence, citing as one example its role in facial recognition technology, which can be used to find missing people but also for “nefarious reasons” which he didn’t specify.

In 2018, Google pledged not to use AI in applications related to weapons, surveillance that violates international norms, or that works in ways that go against human rights.