Interview: Maryam Eid AlMheiri

How are government entities encouraging the establishment of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) in the local media industry?

MARYAM EID ALMHEIRI: SMEs employing fewer than 20 people represent 83% of the Media Zone Authority’s partners. In order to build a sustainable media industry in Abu Dhabi, we have worked to attract talent from all sectors and to support this talent with up-to-date infrastructure, regulations and services. One example of success is the Briefing Room online portal that matches and connects government entities with a wide selection of media agencies and specialists, and has become an invaluable tool both for organisations across Abu Dhabi and for our partners. Another example is the collaboration announced in July 2019 between twofour54 and film production and media company Image Nation, which produced the world’s first Arabic-language soap opera. The show will shoot for more than 250 days of the year and is expected to generate more than 200 jobs in the first year alone, as well as attract new talent to Abu Dhabi. Meanwhile, Image Nation’s support and resources will help nurture the region’s talent through training local cast, crew and writers. It is as a result of these programmes, initiatives and collaborations that we have seen the number of new small businesses and entrepreneurs double in 2019.

What areas present the biggest growth opportunities in private sector media production?

ALMHEIRI: twofour54 is focused on producing film and TV, gaming and animation. The rapid growth of these sectors is a huge opportunity for the private sector, whether for SMEs or the biggest global content producers. Global film and TV is experiencing an unprecedented surge in demand for studios, locations and crew due to the rise of streaming media services offered directly to viewers through the internet. Streaming services are also creating new local language content in major growth markets, including the MENA region. According to consultancy Olsberg SPI, content budgets for both the traditional Hollywood studios and streaming services are estimated at $85bn, some $10bn higher than 2014, a trajectory that is forecast to continue for the medium term. Meanwhile, gaming industry revenue globally has experienced consecutive years of double-digit growth to create a market worth more than $150bn, making gaming among the most world’s most valuable entertainment industries. In the UAE, per capita revenue from gaming is one of the highest in the world. For its part, animation provides support across many industries, as consumers expect better visual effects in films, higher-quality graphics in gaming and a more immersive consumer experience in general.

In what ways are film and television helping to bolster Abu Dhabi’s reputation as a cultural centre?

ALMHEIRI: First, screen content is a powerful communication medium. The development of a media economy and the promotion of incentives means that Abu Dhabi is uniquely positioned in the UAE to attract productions from multiple cultures and geographies. This includes Arabic-language, Hollywood, Bollywood and other South-east Asian productions.

Second, Arab culture is portrayed in much of the content we showcase to local and international audiences. The Arabic-speaking world encompasses more than 420m people, nearly two-thirds of whom are under the age of 30. This is a larger potential marketplace of consumers than the entirety of the EU. Our planned Studio City at Mina Zayed will bolster Abu Dhabi’s position as an internationally competitive film production destination, a centre for Arab filmmakers and a home for a generation of emerging Emirati talent.

Lastly, Abu Dhabi has a highly skilled, adaptable and modern media talent pool. This, in turn, works to attract other leading talents, such as writers, directors, producers, performers, animators, designers, and those with additional vocational and technical media skills.