How MMS is helping MBC work more closely with brands - An interview with Ahmed Al Sahhaf
Posted on 2021 May,23  | By Iain Akerman

Last September the MBC Group launched an in-house advertising and sales unit, bringing an end to its long-term relationship with the Choueiri Group. ArabAd caught up with Ahmed Al Sahhaf, the chief executive of MBC Media Services, to find out how the division is proving its worth to advertisers.


What have been the benefits of establishing an in-house commercial division?

It has empowered us to work more closely with our clients and agency teams to seamlessly deliver against brand briefs and challenges. This enables us to provide better integrated solutions across our television, digital and video on demand platforms. MMS is utilising the latest data measurement technologies to provide data-driven solutions, which is something new to the industry. Providing these solutions is helping our clients better plan their marketing strategies and foresee future opportunities to achieve outcomes that deliver on their expectations.

You entered the market at an extremely tough time. How well have MBC and MMS performed during the pandemic? What have you learnt from the crisis?

The pandemic had a detrimental effect across plenty of sectors causing many brands to cut their media investments in order to cope with the uncertainty of these unprecedented times. However, as we progressed well into the pandemic and people began adjusting to this new norm, we have witnessed an increase in TV spending for a number of reasons. To begin with, brands were noticing that the more time people spend at home, the more TV they watch. 

Apart from viewership growth, we are also working closer with our clients to understand their challenges and offer them multiple solutions across the group to increase their exposure. We are investing in a strong content line-up to continue attracting audiences – and brands are wanting to be associated with key programs. In addition, because of the pandemic, we are also able to attract new categories of clients that have not spent on TV in the past which is also helping growth in TV investments.

The pandemic also presented a window of opportunity when it comes to MBC Groups video on demand platform, Shahid, with a notable acceleration in people adopting OTT media services.

Whats your strategy for the coming year in terms of business growth? What opportunities do you perceive?

We see a gap in the Saudi market with increasing demand from clients and opportunity for growth across all sectors, including government and SMEs, both of which have been growing rapidly in recent years.

A lot of local brands are eager to access MBC platforms nowadays given the solution-oriented approach we have developed. With our proposition, which includes data accuracy, scale and quality relevant content, we believe MBC Group is uniquely positioned to deliver on our clients’ performance goals. We are also planning on continuing to drive in-content opportunities to deliver more innovative and creative solutions that engage with audiences.

How is advertising around content evolving? What new ideas or technologies are you embracing?

There is a lot of potential in advertising around and within content, especially the latter now that the branded content team is part of MMS. With more accurate data between both linear TV and digital VOD, we are able to see one version of our consumers and understand exactly what works and what does not work. This has strongly influenced the innovations that we are working towards to ensure benefit to both the advertiser and the viewer. Some of these solutions revolve around advanced investment technologies, enhanced performance solutions, and more contextually precise targeting to name a few.

Advertising is still highly intrusive. How would you like to see the industry evolve?

Weve been providing our clients with integrated branded content solutions to seamlessly deliver key desired messages in an unobtrusive way and without interruption because we believe in the power of branded content solutions. Branded content offers a more consumer-centric approach compared to traditional advertising, where the focus is not on the product being sold, but on the value offered to the customer. Studies have found that this approach is more effective than traditional advertising as it amplifies a brands values and therefore resonates more effectively and achieves high engagement levels with the consumer.

Other non-intrusive formats can be found on Shahid where we have introduced – for the first time in MENA – native formats that look and feel seamless to the browsing experience using Pause Ads, which are digital static ads that appear when a user pauses the show, which does not interrupt his or her viewing experience.

Audience measurement is key. How are you proving your worth to advertisers?

Advertisers are asking for accurate and timely measurements that ensure transparency and quantify return to ensure that each ad dollar invested is even more accountable. To achieve this, we made a standardised measurement framework and reporting system available to the industry, along with other new solutions that will be rolled out in the near future.

MMS is currently gathering data through MBC Groups set top boxes in Saudi, which is reported daily on a minute-by-minute for content and second-by-second for commercial breaks, allowing advertisers to know precisely what is working for them and what is not. MMS also overlays TV data with Shahid data, providing clients with a unique and better representation of household and individual consumers in a much more realistic and uninterrupted manner.

Is MMS part of the ABG's UAE Audience Measurement Project, which aims to provide a robust mechanism of cross-media measurement?

MBC Group is a member and through them we are duly represented in ABGs UAE Audience Measurement Project, allowing us to ensure that the source of audience generation – the content creators and curators – are at the forefront of the discussions pertinent to the measurement of the audience. As mentioned previously, we are closely interwoven with MBC Group on key strategic fronts such as this.

What next? What developments can we expect in the coming 12 months?

Our goal is to continue providing a platform that draws engaged viewers that advertisers can target through premium Arabic content, which brands can be a part of. This can be achieved by: 1) Having a strong customer value proposition and defining what we aim to offer in the market across three pillars: content excellence, data-driven thinking, and partnership-led solutions. 2) Diversifying our offering to our clients across all MBC Group platforms. 3) Focusing on diverse talent from sales to data scientists, underpinned by processes and automation.