Saudi broadcaster MBC is planning to expand its online streaming services to challenge Netflix’s dominance of the market and expand Riyadh’s influence in the region, the Financial Times reported.
The move is part of an effort to wage “fierce propaganda wars against rivals, Iran and Qatar,” the newspaper said, citing sources briefed on the plans.
Dubai-based MBC, which stands for Middle East Broadcasting Center, is one of the leading media groups in the region, drawing an audience of 140 million satellite viewers.
The Saudi government assumed majority control of the network after the ‘anti-corruption’ shakedown ordered by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in November 2017.
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One of those arrested was MBC chairman Waleed al-Ibrahim, who still retains his title and a 40 percent stake in the company. The remainder is owned by a finance ministry subsidiary, according to the Financial Times.
Since taking de facto control of Saudi Arabia, Prince Mohammed (also known by his initials, MBS) has sought to clamp down on media critical of him and the Saudi government.
One of Saudi Arabia’s core demands for easing a blockade of neighbouring Qatar is to shut down Doha-based Al Jazeera network as well as other media outlets Riyadh accuses the country of funding.
Last week, Saudi authorities ordered Netflix to remove an episode of comedian Hasan Minhaj’s show, Patriot Act, which criticised Saudi Arabia and MBS for the war in Yemen and the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul in October.
After winning over pundits in many major news outlets over his social and economic reforms, the crown prince has seen his stocks drop since Khashoggi’s killing.
MBC’s expansion in the Middle Eastern streaming market comes on a good footing, with several shows already in the pipeline.
Netflix, however, has established itself as a market behemoth with a vast catalogue of original shows.