Middle East Broadcasting Center (MBC), the free-to-air satellite TV operator covering the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, is planning to launch a new over-the-top (OTT) service later in the year, according to local press reports. The new OTT service will be based on a subscription video-on-demand (SVoD) business model and offer the latest Arabic and Western movies as well as the most popular Arabic and Turkish drama series. No details of pricing were disclosed.
MBC already offers a free video-on-demand service called Shahid. Online video is growing at an exponential rate in MENA and recently YouTube has revealed than the region is its second biggest market with around 14.5 million hours of video watched each day in the MENA countries.
MBC, launched in 1991, is the most popular pan-Arab broadcaster. Its undisputed dominance is clearly manifested by the fact that the MBC channels climb to the top position of TV ratings lists in practically every MENA country. According to UAE ratings service tview, MBC2 aired 19 of the top 20 most watched movies by Arab audiences in the English language in June, while seven of the top 10 television channels in the UAE in 2013 were from the group.
The reasons behind MBC’s dominance are its exclusive deals with major International content producers and distributors (like US studios for movies and TV series), the introduction of Turkish drama series in the MENA region (very popular with the Arab public) and investment in local-Arabic language- content (MBC Group is the largest producer of Arabic drama). MBC has leased a 25,000 sq ft digital studio production complex (named the MBC Stage) within the Dubai Media City to produce Arabic drama. MBC has successfully appealed to the diverse cultural values in the MENA region while, at the same time, skilfully avoiding cultural and religious taboos.
MBC makes the vast majority of its revenues from advertising and sponsorship. However, the Dubai-based broadcaster has an interest in investigating opportunities to monetise the premium content it controls. In February 2009, MBC entered a joint venture with Showtime (the pay TV operator that merged with Orbit to create OSN in August 2009) to create the channel MBC+ Drama. It is a 24-hour Arabic language channel airing Turkish series and Arabic drama up to three months earlier than any other channel in the region. MBC+ Drama is carried exclusively on OSN.
MBC was the first major broadcaster in MENA to ink a deal with My-HD Media, the low cost satellite pay TV operator. IHS MENA Intelligence estimates My-HD Media managed to attract around 91,000 subscribers at the end of 2013 (mostly from Saudi Arabia, UAE, Qatar and Kuwait). MBC has also signed a deal with Selevision, a Saudi pay TV provider offering a hybrid satellite-OTT service in Saudi Arabia. According to the deal, Selevision has the right to offer to its subscribers a number of MBC HD channels (the same list of channels that My-HD Media is offering). IHS MENA Intelligence estimates that around half of Selevision’s customers at the end of March 2014 (1Q2014) were watching the MBC channels - a figure close to 10,000 subscribers.
MBC has developed another revenue model based on the high penetration of smartphones in the MENA countries and especially in the Gulf States: viewers of popular Turkish drama series on one of MBC’s channels (usually MBC 1, MBC 4, MBC Drama) can watch a five-minute recap of an episode one day prior to it being aired on television. These viewers are also given the option to subscribe to an SMS news alert service.
Initially, Shahid was a VoD service offered on MBC’s website but, primarily due to its popularity, in 2010 it was relaunched as a standalone portal, Shahid.net. Shahid.net is now available across a number of devices (iOS and Android mobile devices and tablets, connected TVs, laptops and PCs), offering more than 4,000 movies and TV series. According to MBC data, Shahid.net boasted more than 3.7 million users at the end of 2013. In July that year (the month of Ramadan), 38 million videos were downloaded - a record for any OTT VoD service in the MENA region.