Middle Eastern broadcaster MBC is expanding its video streaming service to take on Netflix in the region.
According to Financial Times, the Dubai-based MBC is also hiring former Hulu executive Johannes Larcher for its digital and video service, Shahid, as it plans to create new Arabic content.
Launched in 1991, MBC has 140 million satellite and online viewers in the Middle East. The company came under majority government ownership last year after its chairman Waleed al-Ibrahim was detained as part of the crown prince’s anti-corruption shakedown. While al-Ibrahim kept a 40 percent stake in the company, as well as some management control, the remaining shares were transferred to a subsidiary of the finance ministry.
“Prevailing in-house standards that apply to on-screen TV will be applied to Shahid originals,” said one source with knowledge of the company.
MBC is hoping that it can take on rival Netflix, which has the largest paying subscriber base in the Middle East, with 1.7 million users. Last year, the Shahid video service had 72 million users, including 600,000 subscribers to its premium service. Starz Play, Wavo and Amazon are also all vying for a piece of the action in the region.
“There is already a lot of competition in the Arab world, but Netflix stands apart — largely for its international appeal and original content,” said Simon Murray, principal analyst at Digital TV Research, a U.K.-based consultancy.
The boost in competition from MBC comes after the Saudi government requested that Netflix pull an episode of its comedy series, “Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj,” which criticized Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Netflix, which came under fire for complying with the request, said that its decision was based on a “legal request” from the Saudi government, and that the episode can still be viewed in the country on YouTube, according to CNBC.