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.”


Trump order targets Chinese Internet giants TikTok, WeChat

Updated 07 August 2020

Trump order targets Chinese Internet giants TikTok, WeChat

  • The executive order, which takes effect in 45 days, bars anyone under US jurisdiction from doing business with the owners of TikTok or WeChat
  • It also heaps pressure on ByteDance, TikTok’s parent, to close negotiations to sell to Microsoft and further escalates the Trump administration’s multi-front confrontation with Beijing

DUBAI: US President Donald Trump on Thursday ordered sweeping restrictions against Chinese-owned social media giants TikTok and WeChat that could strangle their ability to operate in the US.

The executive order, which takes effect in 45 days, bars anyone under US jurisdiction from doing business with the owners of TikTok or WeChat.

It also heaps pressure on ByteDance, TikTok’s parent, to close negotiations to sell to Microsoft and further escalates the Trump administration’s multi-front confrontation with Beijing.

Trump’s order cites a threat to the “national security, foreign policy, and economy of the United States,” as the president seeks to curb China’s power in global technology.

The move sent shares in the parent company of WeChat into a spin, with the issue tanking as much as 10 percent at one point in Friday trade, wiping almost $50 billion off Tencent’s market capitalization.

It also adds to a laundry list of issues that have ratcheted up tensions between the superpowers, including Hong Kong, trade, Huawei, the South China Sea and the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19).

Last month, Washington ordered the closure of the Chinese consulate in Houston, accusing it of being a center for spies. China hit back by shutting the US mission in Chengdu.

The two sides have also been engaged in a war of words over who is to blame for the pandemic since Trump first described it as a “Chinese virus” in March.

On Wednesday, tensions were further stoked when the US announced its highest-level visit to Taiwan since Washington switched diplomatic recognition to China in 1979, a move blasted by Beijing, which views the self-ruled island as a breakaway territory.

“TikTok automatically captures vast swaths of information from its users, including Internet and other network activity information such as location data and browsing and search histories,” Trump’s order said.

Data could potentially be used by China to track the locations of federal employees and contractors, build dossiers on people for blackmail, and conduct corporate espionage, it alleged.

The TikTok mobile app has been downloaded some 175 million times in the US and more than a billion times around the world.

The US Senate voted Thursday to bar TikTok from being downloaded onto US government employees’ telephones, intensifying US scrutiny of the popular app.
The bill, passed by the Republican-controlled Senate, now goes to the House of Representatives, led by Democrats.

Several US agencies already bar employees from downloading TikTok onto their phones.

“This is yet another watershed moment in the US-China technology cold war,” Paul Triolo, head of global technology policy at Eurasia Group, told Bloomberg. “It shows the depth of the US concern.”

Last month, India also outlawed TikTok along with 58 other Chinese apps, citing data security fears.

Trump has set a deadline of mid-September for TikTok to be acquired by a US firm or be banned in the United States.

Microsoft has expanded its talks on TikTok to a potential deal that would include buying the global operations of the fast-growing app, the Financial Times reported Thursday.

Microsoft declined to comment on the report, after previously disclosing it was considering a deal for TikTok operations in the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
TikTok’s kaleidoscopic feeds of short video clips feature everything from hair-dye tutorials to dance routines and jokes about daily life.

The company on Thursday announced plans for its first data center for European users to be set up in Ireland.

WeChat is a messaging, social media, and electronic payment platform and is reported to have more than a billion users. It is not widely used in the US, but in China it is difficult to function without it as the platform is used by nearly all businesses instead of email.

Trump’s order contended that WeChat captures user data that could then exploited by the Chinese government but provided no evidence that such is happening.

“WeChat captures the personal and proprietary information of Chinese nationals visiting the United States,” the order read, “thereby allowing the Chinese Communist Party a mechanism for keeping tabs on Chinese citizens who may be enjoying the benefits of a free society for the first time in their lives.”