Former Maktoob exec raises 800K to bring social TV app to MENA

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The Los Angeles-based, MENA-focused app Vyu has just closed an $825,000 USD round led by Jordan’s Jabbar Internet Group. The company will use the investment to prepare for launch in the US and Arab markets “in the next couple of months,” says founder and CEO Ahmed Nassef in an email to Wamda, as well as set up an office in Dubai.

Vyu – the name of the company and its app – is putting the finishing touches on a second-screen app designed to be used alongside TV shows, allowing users to find and share “news, gossip, clips, and social feeds” related to their favorite programs. The app, Nassef says, will also serve as a predictive discovery tool based on user preferences.

Nassef was previously the head of Maktoob, the Arabic web portal which Yahoo! acquired in 2009 for $164 million USD. He then served as the Managing Director of Yahoo! Middle East & Africa for the next four years.

While traditional TV viewership is in decline the world over, serial programs are arguably more popular than ever. Further, people have more options than ever before regarding how to engage with the program and each other. The Vyu team, as well as its investors, is especially excited about the massive uptick in smartphone penetration observable year after year in the region. “I invested in Vyu because the company is able to play a central role in the smartphone boom that is happening in untapped markets, bringing huge potential for growth,” says angel investor Kieth Nilsson in a press release.

Jabbar’s chairman Samih Toukan echoed Nilsson’s sentiments: “in addition to the US market, high growth markets such as India, the Middle East, and Latin America represent the sweet spot for the future of social TV, given the skyrocketing growth in smartphone penetration, strong social engagement, and some of the highest TV and video consumption rates in the world.”

“The delivery platform [for TV shows] is not important for viewers… whether it’s live TV, catchup, DVR, iTunes, downloads, whatever… The problem is that all the news, gossip, and social chatter about shows is not easy to find. That’s the problem we’re looking to solve with Vyu,” says Nassef.

The app will launch simultaneously in the US and MENA, followed potentially by other markets, the founder says.

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