DUBAI: In January 2020, MBC Group relaunched its streaming service Shahid with a premium version Shahid VIP.
Since the relaunch, its subscribers have increased 10-fold and the company has made significant investments in original as well as licensed content in addition to expanding its platform to North America.
Arab News spoke to Jakob Mejlhede Andersen, chief content officer of Shahid, about the firm’s progress over the last year.
Before the launch, Shahid offered free content with ad breaks; but was perceived as basically an advertising platform.
The subscription-based, ad-free service existed as Shahid Plus but with much less content than the current premium offering, Shahid VIP.
- Jakob Mejlhede Andersen
- Chief Content Officer, Shahid
- Joining MBC Group in April 2020, Jakob Mejlhede Andersen is a television entertainment executive with more than 20 years of experience building, launching, and re-positioning channels and online services throughout Scandinavia, Central and Eastern Europe, Russia, and Africa. He has a track record in developing successful content strategies and increasing performance across various platforms.
- Andersen is currently responsible for the overall content strategy for Shahid and its premium SVOD offering, Shahid VIP. He also oversees MBC Group’s OTT offerings, the strongest in the MENA region.
- Prior to joining MBC Group, Andersen served as CEO of NENT Studios UK.
With the relaunch, “the expectation was that there will be a good balance between the two services, and I believe we have achieved that,” said Andersen.
Nasser Al-Qasabi’s play “Al Theeb fi Al Qleeb” (“The Wolf in the Heart”) was among the first pieces of content to go on Shahid VIP in March 2020 followed by several shows during Ramadan, which really drove subscriptions, he added.
In response to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, Shahid launched its #StayAtHome campaign, which offered viewers a free one-month VIP subscription.
The campaign included titles such as “Born a King,” which documents the true story of the formation of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, as well as Originals such as “Fe Kul Esboa Youm Gomaa” (“Every Week has a Friday”) and “Ahd El Dam” (“Blood Oath”).
“We saw a significant increase of subscribers during Ramadan married with the COVID-19 crisis and so we did everything we could to revise and recheck the programs strategy to offer more great content behind the paywall through the summer.”
Andersen stepped down from his role as CEO of NENT Studios, which produces and distributes content mainly in the Nordic region, at the beginning of 2020. He joined Shahid a few months later expecting a “calm” Ramadan period but he was wrong.
“It was very clear in just a couple of weeks in that we needed to do everything we could to acquire and produce content for the summer as we suddenly had a lot of subscribers whose increasing content needs and demands had to be met,” he said.
This resulted in shows such as “Lockdown,” “Al Shak,” “Al Harami,” and “The Case.”
Andersen noted that while Shahid’s team was aware of the success of international players’ investment in local content in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, it was still gauging the willingness and interest of viewers in subscribing to Arabic content.
But the success of the shows released through Ramadan and the summer months provided proof of subscribers’ interest in Shahid VIP’s offering.
“There is more potential to expand. If you look at the content for younger target groups, I think we’ve done okay. But we are nowhere near where I hope to be in a short time,” he added.
According to analytics firm Digital TV Research, OSN is expected to have 2.7 million customers by 2026, followed by Starz Play with 2.3 million, and Shahid VIP with 1.5 million.
Simon Murray, Digital TV Research’s principal analyst, said: “Netflix and Disney+ will account for about half of the MENA region’s total by 2026, despite Disney+ only starting in 2022 in a limited number of countries. Due to exclusive deals with Disney+, HBO, and Paramount+, OSN will quickly gain subscribers.”
On the partnership front, Andersen said the company was working to ensure good relationships with telecom operators throughout the MENA region.
When it comes to content, he added, every company had its own ambitions from Disney+ to potentially Hulu and Viacom. But Shahid remained confident in its strategy with 25 new confirmed original series in 2021.
“You need to build a solid SVOD (subscription-video-on-demand) strategy on your own merits and our own merits are not only the originals that we can produce, but also the strength of the MBC Group, which is quite phenomenal compared to anything I’ve seen earlier in my life.”
- January MBC Group relaunches Shahid and Shahid VIP.
- February Shahid VIP launches its original content ‘Blood Oath’ and ‘Mamlakat Iblis.’
- March Launch of #StayAtHome campaign, offering new content and a free one-month subscription; and a partnership with Sony for all Bravia 4K televisions to feature Shahid.
- May Shahid arrives on TCL Android TVs.
- June Shahid VIP launches exclusive Eid concerts and premieres TV show ‘Leh La’ (‘Why Not?’).
- July Launch of exclusive Arabic films prior to their theatrical release, starting with Egyptian drama ‘Saheb El Makam.’
- August Shahid VIP continues premiering movies first on the platform with ‘Al Hareth.’
- September Shahid VIP premiers ‘Addani Al Ayb,’ and ‘The Arabian Warrior;’ launches original series ‘Karimophabia,’ and ‘Rahn Al Tahqiq.’
- October Shahid screens ‘Eswed Fateh,’ and ‘Dofaat Beirut,’ and launches Original series ‘Nemra Etnein.’
- November Shahid VIP launches in the US and Canada; MBC Group and Rotana Media Group sign a deal to bring Rotana’s channels and content to Shahid VIP.
- December Shahid VIP exclusively airs ‘Masrah Masr’ in its fifth and final season as well as Original series ‘El Omara.’
Part of this strategy involved focusing on the Arab diaspora in different parts of the world.
“We chose to expand to North America (Canada and the US first) because there is a good concentration of potential subscribers who are willing to pay and a good payment infrastructure,” said Andersen.
Shahid plans to continue its global expansion to a number of countries in Europe, Latin America, and Southeast Asia over the next year, although Shahid is already available around the world.
The firm will place a “special focus” on the markets it intends to expand into in terms of customizing its content offering as well as running promotions and advertising campaigns.
After a successful year for Shahid its appetite for SVOD consumption is only growing. As viewers binge through an entire season over a weekend, “we need to have an annual year-long production cycle,” added Andersen. “We can’t just slow down and believe that consumers will watch what they did six months ago.”
Consumer viewing habits have put a lot of pressure on content supply, which in turn is good for business and the creative environment.
“I strongly believe that it is very important for the region to develop and have its own voice in a world that sees more and more globalization.
“If we don’t nourish and tell the stories for the Arabic region, then someone, who doesn’t necessarily understand or appreciate the culture of the region, will try,” he said.