MBC launched its revamped streaming service Shahid last month with significant changes to content, strategy and technology making it a formidable competitor in the Arab world.
Two months in a row, I have been waxing eloquent about MBC Group, but I don’t think the attention and editorial space is unwarranted. Last month especially saw several members of the royal family, celebrities, producers and the who’s who in TV come together at Dubai Opera to witness the unveiling of a brand new and evolved Shahid. The launch was simultaneously showcased on the world’s tallest canvas – the Burj Khalifa and all that fanfare was not without merit.
It has been a little over a year since ex-Hulu executive Johannes Larcher assumed the role of Managing Director at Shahid and his announcements on the day were nothing short of impressive. As new CEO Marc-Antoine d’Halluin pointed out, if the broadcaster had invested $1.3bn over the last ten years in content, a lot more will be pumped into the streaming service in the next two years. You only need to see the quality of some of the trailers that were showcased on the day to realise that MBC means business.
As a non-Arabic speaker, Shahid held very little appeal for me in the past but my interest peaked when I heard that it had partnered with Disney and that more international partnerships were in the works. Of course, the interface is still in Arabic so you will have to rely on your browser’s translation software to get in but once you do, the content and the experience are both superlative. Shahid’s rebranding comes just as Netflix has announced that in 2019, it made $20bn in revenue, which means its investment in original content is starting to pay off.
Shahid has a significant advantage over Netflix among Arab audiences. It was born in our backyard and parent company MBC has had enough time to figure out what content works for a regional Arab audience better than any international player. It also has the advantages of having a visionary leadership, a smart tech team and money to boot. With all these factors, Shahid should not just be able to make it big in the Arab world; it should be able to travel and appeal to Arabs across the world. Does it have the power to become the Netflix of this region? Let’s wait and watch.