×

MBC Group Hires Ex-Hulu Exec Johannes Larcher to Boost Streaming (EXCLUSIVE)

Leading Middle Eastern free-to-air satellite network MBC Group is ramping up its streaming platforms, Shahid and Shahid Plus, with the appointment of former Hulu executive Johannes Larcher to head its digital operations and with the launch of a Shahid Originals unit.

MBC’s move, made amid an ongoing boom in streamer subscribers in the Middle East-North Africa region, is part of a five-year growth plan being implemented by the Dubai-based group’s founder and chairman, Waleed Al-Ibrahim of Saudi Arabia. Larcher is the latest U.S. exec to join MBC following the appointment last September of Peter Smith, former president of NBCUniversal International, to head the company’s new production unit, MBC Studios.

A dual U.S.-Austrian national, Larcher worked at Hulu from 2009 to 2013 and served as SVP International. He was responsible for all of Hulu’s activities outside the U.S. Notably, he launched and ran Hulu’s successful unit in Japan.

The OTT subscription market in MENA grew 48% in 2017, according to the most recent figures from IHS Markit, which expects streamers to account for half of all pay-TV subscriptions in the region in 2020 and 67% of the market in 2022.

Popular on Variety

The region’s top streamer is Netflix, followed by Starz Play and Shahid Plus, according to Digital TV Research. Other players include the growing regional streamer iflix.

In an email interview, Larcher told Variety that his goal is for Shahid to become “the leading VOD service for modern Arab audiences, anytime, anywhere.” He called Shahid a “unique platform in the MENA region” because it has both an a free AVOD layer, the basic Shahid service, and a premium SVOD layer, Shahid Plus.

Larcher declined to disclose the current number of Shahid Plus subscribers, but said it had been growing steadily and had reached a healthy level. His goal is now to “turn up the heat and focus aggressively on accelerated growth,” he said.

He added that MBC “will invest significantly [in] more premium-quality programming, updated technology and wider distribution on all platforms ,” including mobile devices, smart TVs and gaming consoles.

MBC Group CEO Sam Barnett underlined in a statement that MBC reaches “140 million viewers every day across the Middle East, both through our satellite television channels and online.” The Shahid service is available across 23 countries in the region.

“Now our challenge is to boost the volume of premium video content both from MBC Studios and further afield, to upgrade our technology and to extend our distribution,” he said.

On the production side, Shahid Originals will be making its first investments in originally produced, exclusive and cutting-edge content this year, though details are being kept under wraps.

“We believe there’s substantial unmet demand for original, innovative and compelling storytelling in this region through high-quality premium video content,” Larcher said, and that there is a large local talent pool “looking for new and better ways to create, tell and distribute relevant stories that captivate modern Arab audiences.”

Larcher said MBC’s current reach as the region’s top linear player gave the group “a significant advantage in driving viewers to catchup and subscription on Shahid.”

More Digital

  • Jeff Bezos

    Jeff Bezos Forms $10 Billion Fund to Fight Climate Change

    Multi-billionaire Jeff Bezos, the world’s wealthiest person, announced a $10 billion fund to invest in projects that will combat the alarming trend of climate change. The Amazon founder and CEO announced the formation of the Bezos Earth Fund in an Instagram post Monday (Feb. 17).⁣⁣⁣ According to Bezos, the fund will begin issuing grants this [...]

  • Jake Paul

    YouTuber Jake Paul Launches Entrepreneur How-To Platform, Financial Freedom Movement

    YouTuber Jake Paul wants you to be financially free, for $19.99 a month.  At a rally on Saturday, the content creator — along with influencer friends and around 50 teenage and tween-age fans, some chaperoned by parents — launched the Financial Freedom Movement (FFM) in partnership with GenZ Holdings Inc., a Los Angeles-based brand development [...]

  • HQ Trivia

    HQ Trivia Live Game App Shuts Down

    After a two and a half years, HQ Trivia — the live game-show app that gave away cash prizes to winners — is shutting down. HQ Trivia’s move to shut its doors was first reported by CNN. The company is laying off its 25 full-time staffers, according to the report. In a tweet Friday, CEO [...]

  • Golden Mics - The Podcast Academy

    The Oscars of Podcasting? First 'Golden Mics' Awards to Debut in 2021

    The burgeoning podcast biz is looking for its own version of the Oscars, Emmys and Grammys. On Friday, a group of podcast publishers and producers including Spotify, NPR, PRX, Sony Music Entertainment and Wondery announced the formation of the Podcast Academy, a membership-based organization dedicated to promoting the medium. As part of its charter, the [...]

  • Mike Bloomberg

    Mike Bloomberg's Odd Meme Blitz Spurs Instagram to Require Influencers to Disclose Paid Political Content

    A new paid meme campaign on Instagram by billionaire Mike Bloomberg, who’s running a guerrilla bid for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, has prompted Facebook to clarify that influencers on the platform must disclose such arrangements. This week, Bloomberg’s presidential campaign launched a broad campaign across at least 19 top Instagram accounts with a collective [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content