MBC launches 'Shahid Original' productions, appoints VOD business head

MBC's Shahid service will be making its first investments into originally produced, exclusive and cutting-edge content in 2019
MBC Group CEO Sam Barnett with MD Digital VOD Johannes Larcher (L)
MBC Group CEO Sam Barnett with MD Digital VOD Johannes Larcher (L)

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MBC Group reaffirmed its intention to prioritise its digital offerings with a robust investment strategy for the next five years and a comprehensive growth plan focused on the Group’s VOD platforms, SHAHID and SHAHID PLUS. The Saudi based group has revealed plans to launch a series of new offerings and initiatives that include “SHAHID Original” productions; global content acquisitions; product and technology investments; and partnerships with leading eco-system participants.

Leading this growth will be former Hulu and accomplished digital media executive, Johannes Larcher, who joins MBC Group as Managing Director, Digital & VOD (video on demand) Websites. Larcher will be responsible for enhancing MBC Group’s entire digital offering, including its flagship SHAHID and SHAHID PLUS services, with the objective of creating an elevated SHAHID service and establish it as the leading OTT video platform of choice across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.

MBC Group CEO, Sam Barnett commented: “We reach 140 million viewers every day across the Middle East, both through our satellite television channels and online through our video on demand service, SHAHID. And as audience habits evolve we are evolving with them. What remains fundamental to our business is the ability to produce, package and deliver content of the highest quality to people all the way from Morocco in the West across North Africa, to Egypt and then to the Levant, Iraq and then the Gulf. SHAHID combines the very best of our pan-Arab television premium content and the local content that delights audiences in all of the 23 countries in the region.”

Barnett further added, “Johannes joins us to lead the next stage in our development plan for SHAHID. We are already a destination for the best Arabic content. 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. Johannes brings a wealth of experience to our venture and we’re very excited to welcome him to the Group.”

Speaking on his appointment Johannes Larcher commented: “The MENA region’s increasingly digital consumers represent tremendous opportunities for innovation and growth in online video. SHAHID’s goal is to become the most beloved premium digital video service in MENA. With MBC Group’s support and based on our deep and decades-long understanding of the modern Arab viewer, SHAHID will be making its first investments into originally produced, exclusive and cutting-edge content in 2019, which will stream alongside our compelling line-up of regional and global licensed movies, dramas, comedies and family content.”

Larcher further added: “In addition, we are embarking on a program to upgrade the quality of our product and technology to best-in-class levels so that viewers can enjoy an intuitive and friction-free experience whenever, wherever and however they watch SHAHID. We are also committed to making SHAHID accessible and more attractive to more viewers by partnering with distribution, content and other media eco-system partners from the region and across the globe.”

A dual citizen of Austria and the United States of America, Johannes Larcher is an accomplished and versatile internet and digital media executive whose track-record spans a wide range of industry sectors, functional roles, and company types. Johannes has successfully managed P&Ls from first revenue to over $300m in both B2B and B2C environments.

During his tenure at Hulu (2009-2013) – the premium video service owned by Disney, Fox, and NBC – where Larcher served as SVP International, Larcher was responsible for all of Hulu’s activities outside the United States. Most notably, he launched and ran Hulu Japan, the country’s highly acclaimed online video market leader that has accumulated over 1.5 million paid subscribers. He oversaw all aspects of Hulu Japan’s business including content licensing, customer acquisition, OEM/Telco distribution and product/technology. Larcher was also responsible for Hulu’s business development and partnership efforts in markets including Canada, the UK, Australia, Turkey, and India.

Since leaving Hulu, Larcher has served as a strategic advisor and interim CEO for major broadcasters, studios and private equity firms, for which he evaluated and launched various OTT Video services in Europe, the US, and Asia. Immediately prior to joining MBC Group, he served as CEO and co-founder of SubVRsive, an Emmy-nominated VR and AR Content Production start-up funded by WPP. Through this venture, Larcher worked closely with global brands, including: Ford, Google, Showtime, and Walmart to create immersive brand experiences through 360 Video and interactive VR and AR applications.

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