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Saudi-backed broadcaster hires ex-Hulu exec and plans original streaming content to rival Netflix

Key Points
  • MBC Group has tapped former Hulu executive Johannes Larcher to boost its video on demand (VOD) service.
  • The service will look to develop new Arabic content, including films and soap operas.

Major Middle Eastern broadcaster MBC Group has hired a former Hulu executive and plans to create original content for its streaming platform in a bid to rival Netflix in the region.

The company has tapped Johannes Larcher, Hulu's former senior vice president of international, to boost its video on demand (VOD) service Shahid. The service will look to develop new Arabic content, including films and soap operas.

The news was first reported by the Financial Times.

Larcher's appointment is part of an international drive for MBC, a spokesman for the company told CNBC. While at Hulu, Larcher led the streaming platform's operations outside the U.S.

"We have a five-year strategy that Shahid is an integral part of," the spokesman said. "We believe that the long-established relationship of MBC with Arab consumers will enable us to produce even more culturally relevant content that could travel beyond the region."

The Dubai-based firm has been majority owned by the Saudi government following last year's anti-corruption crackdown, which led to the detainment and subsequent release of MBC founder and Chairman Waleed bin Ibrahim Al Ibrahim. The Saudi government controls 60 percent of the media group, while Al Ibrahim owns 40 percent, the MBC spokesperson confirmed.

Tuesday's news arrives a week after Saudi Arabia requested that Netflix remove an episode of "Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj." The show was critical of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the wake of the murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi — which the Saudi royal family has denied any involvement in. The U.S. streaming giant complied, a move that resulted in intense scrutiny from human rights advocates as well as the U.S. comedian himself.

Comedian Hasan Minhaj attends the 11th Annual Stand Up for Heroes on November 7, 2017.
Jim Spellman | WireImage | Getty Images

Netflix holds that its decision was based on a "legal request" from the Saudi government, and that its response was consistent with how other U.S.-based companies operate. The firm said the episode could still be viewed in Saudi Arabia via YouTube.