INTERVIEW: A lot can happen in a year, says Shahid exec Jakob Mejlhede Andersen

INTERVIEW: A lot can happen in a year, says Shahid exec Jakob Mejlhede Andersen
Jakob Mejlhede Andersen, chief content officer of Shahid. (Supplied)
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Updated 12 March 2021

INTERVIEW: A lot can happen in a year, says Shahid exec Jakob Mejlhede Andersen

INTERVIEW: A lot can happen in a year, says Shahid exec Jakob Mejlhede Andersen
  • How streaming platform is changing narrative of Arabic storytelling in region, beyond
  • Arab News spoke to Shahid's chief content officer about the firm’s progress over the last year

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.


BIO

  • 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.”




Shahid remained confident in its strategy with 25 new confirmed original series in 2021. (Supplied)

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.”


2020 TIMELINE

  • 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.


Fox News host criticized for comparing US chief medical adviser to Nazi doctor

Prominent Jewish groups and the Auschwitz Museum condemned Logan’s comments, describing them as “shameful.” (File/AFP)
Prominent Jewish groups and the Auschwitz Museum condemned Logan’s comments, describing them as “shameful.” (File/AFP)
Updated 1 min 6 sec ago

Fox News host criticized for comparing US chief medical adviser to Nazi doctor

Prominent Jewish groups and the Auschwitz Museum condemned Logan’s comments, describing them as “shameful.” (File/AFP)
  • Fox News host and commentator Lara Logan was on Tuesday criticized for comparing America’s chief medical adviser Anthony Fauci to Nazi doctor

LONDON: Fox News host and commentator Lara Logan was on Tuesday criticized for comparing America’s chief medical adviser Anthony Fauci to Nazi doctor Josef Mengele.

During “Fox News Primetime” on Monday the journalist said that people had told her that Fauci did not represent science but rather Mengele, who was known as the Angel of Death for the atrocities he committed while performing medical experiments at the Auschwitz death camp.

During the TV show, Logan said: “What you see on Dr. Fauci — this is what people say to me: That he doesn’t represent science to them. He represents Josef Mengele.

“Dr. Josef Mengele, the Nazi doctor who did experiments on Jews during the Second World War and in the concentration camps. And I am talking about people all around the world are saying this,” she added.

Prominent Jewish groups and the Auschwitz Museum condemned Logan’s comments, describing them as “shameful.”

Meanwhile, the American Jewish Committee called on Logan, 50, to apologize. On her comments it said: “Utterly shameful. Josef Mengele earned his nickname by performing deadly and inhumane medical experiments on prisoners of the Holocaust, including children.

“There is no comparing the hell these victims went through to public health measures. An apology is needed.”

Head of the Anti-Defamation League, Jonathan Greenblatt, said: “There’s absolutely no comparison between mask mandates, vaccine requirements, and other COVID-19 (coronavirus disease) mitigation efforts to what happened to Jews during the Holocaust.”


STARZPLAY hosts ‘House of Gucci’ UAE premiere

STARZPLAY hosts ‘House of Gucci’ UAE premiere
Updated 01 December 2021

STARZPLAY hosts ‘House of Gucci’ UAE premiere

STARZPLAY hosts ‘House of Gucci’ UAE premiere
  • The biographical drama will be available to stream on STARZPLAY after its theatrical release

DUBAI: STARZPLAY, in association with Gulf Films, hosted the UAE premiere of American biographical crime drama “House of Gucci” at the NOVO 7-Star cinema at IMG Worlds of Adventure in Dubai.

The premiere was the first look for select guests before the film’s official release in UAE cinemas. Following its theatrical release, the movie will be available to stream exclusively on STARZPLAY.

Currently, the platform is streaming a biographical documentary about the same story, “Lady Gucci,” via the Discovery+ add-on channel. In the 75-minute documentary, the former Mrs. Gucci, Patrizia Reggiani, tells her story in an exclusive interview.

The latest film “House of Gucci” has a star-studded cast featuring Lady Gaga, Adam Driver, Al Pacino, Salma Hayek, and Jared Leto and is directed by acclaimed director Ridley Scott, known for films such as “Blade Runner,” “Black Hawk Down,” and “The Martian.”

The move marks STARZPLAY’s dominance in the regional streaming market. This year alone, the platform has made deals that saw it enter the Asian market as well as strengthen its foothold in the Middle East through partnerships with Abu Dhabi Media and Turkish content companies.


Google to ban political advertising ahead of Philippine elections

Google to ban political advertising ahead of Philippine elections
Updated 01 December 2021

Google to ban political advertising ahead of Philippine elections

Google to ban political advertising ahead of Philippine elections
  • Move comes amid pressure on social media platforms over their handling of political advertising during the US presidential election in 2020

MANILA: Alphabet Inc’s Google said on Wednesday it will ban political advertising on its platform in the run-up to Philippine elections in May next year to choose a successor to President Rodrigo Duterte.
The move comes amid pressure on social media platforms over their handling of political advertising during the US presidential election in 2020.
Social media platforms have become political battlegrounds in the Southeast Asian nation, with studies showing Filipinos top the rankings globally for time spent on social media.
Election advertisements that promote or oppose any political party or the candidacy of any person or party for public office, would not be allowed to run between Feb. 8 to May 9, 2022, Google said in an update to its political content policy.
The dates cover the period of campaigning in the Philippines up to election day on May 9.
Google said notifications would be sent to affected advertisers about the policy update.
Google has banned political advertising on its platform before, including in Canada’s federal election in 2019 and before an election in Singapore in 2020.
Social media platforms like Facebook have helped strengthen Duterte’s support base, with analysts regarding them as instrumental in his election victory in 2016 and a rout by his allies in mid-term polls last year.
The Philippines will choose a successor to Duterte, who under the constitution is not allowed to seek another term, but will be standing for a senator’s seat.


CNN anchor Chris Cuomo suspended for helping his brother against sexual misconduct allegations 

 In this combination of photos New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, left, and his brother CNN anchor Chris Cuomo. (AP file photo)
In this combination of photos New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, left, and his brother CNN anchor Chris Cuomo. (AP file photo)
Updated 3 min 13 sec ago

CNN anchor Chris Cuomo suspended for helping his brother against sexual misconduct allegations 

 In this combination of photos New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, left, and his brother CNN anchor Chris Cuomo. (AP file photo)
  • CNN suspended prime time anchor Chris Cuomo “indefinitely, pending further evaluation” for helping his brother against sexual misconduct allegations

LONDON: CNN suspended prime time anchor Chris Cuomo “indefinitely, pending further evaluation,” on Tuesday after an investigation revealed that he helped his brother, former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, defend himself against sexual misconduct allegations.

The investigation, conducted by the New York Attorney General Letitia James, showed “a greater level of involvement” in Cuomo’s efforts to help his brother, Andrew, than previously known. 

Andrew Cuomo had resigned in August after he was accused by various women of sexual misconduct. Chris Cuomo’s efforts to help his brother were widely considered a breach of journalistic ethics in the media industry. 

At the time of Andrew’s resignation, Chris Cuomo had told CNN viewers that he was “not an advisor,” but “a brother.” 

However, the new evidence revealed that Cuomo used media contacts to find out details about the women accusing Andrew of sexual harassement. 

“When Chris admitted to us that he had offered advice to his brother’s staff, he broke our rules and we acknowledged that publicly,” CNN said in a statement shortly after Cuomo’s suspension. 

“But we also appreciated the unique position he was in and understood his need to put family first and job second. However, these documents point to a greater level of involvement in his brother’s efforts than we previously knew. As a result, we have suspended Chris indefinitely, pending further evaluation.”

The documents revealed heaps of emails and text messages that point to the extent of Cuomo’s involvement, particularly with the governor’s staff.

“Please let me help with the prep,” Cuomo texted a senior aide, Melissa DeRosa. “You need to trust me we are making mistakes we can't afford,” he added. 

Another set of messages revealed that Cuomo had texted DeRosa saying “I have a lead on the wedding girl,” a reference to Anna Ruch, a woman who accused Andrew Cuomo of attempting to kiss her at a wedding.


Twitter bans sharing of photos without consent

Twitter bans sharing of photos without consent
Updated 01 December 2021

Twitter bans sharing of photos without consent

Twitter bans sharing of photos without consent

SAN FRANCISCO:Twitter launched new rules Tuesday blocking users from sharing private images of other people without their consent, in a tightening of the network’s policy just a day after it changed CEOs.
Under the new rules, people who are not public figures can ask Twitter to take down pictures or video of them that they report were posted without permission.
Twitter said this policy does not apply to “public figures or individuals when media and accompanying tweet text are shared in the public interest or add value to public discourse.”
“We will always try to assess the context in which the content is shared and, in such cases, we may allow the images or videos to remain on the service,” the company added.
The right of Internet users to appeal to platforms when images or data about them are posted by third parties, especially for malicious purposes, has been debated for years.
Twitter already prohibited the publication of private information such as a person’s phone number or address, but there are “growing concerns” about the use of content to “harass, intimidate and reveal the identities of individuals,” Twitter said.
The company noted a “disproportionate effect on women, activists, dissidents, and members of minority communities.”
High-profile examples of online harassment include the barrages of racist, sexist and homophobic abuse on Twitch, the world’s biggest video game streaming site.
But instances of harassment abound, and victims must often wage lengthy fights to see hurtful, insulting or illegally produced images of themselves removed from the online platforms.
Some Twitter users pushed the company to clarify exactly how the tightened policy would work.
“Does this mean that if I take a picture of, say, a concert in Central Park, I need the permission of everyone in it? We diminish the sense of the public to the detriment of the public,” tweeted Jeff Jarvis, a journalism professor at the City University of New York.
The change came the day after Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey announced he was leaving the company, and handed CEO duties to company executive Parag Agrawal.
The platform, like other social media networks, has struggled against bullying, misinformation and hate-fueled content.