Interviews: Noura Al Kaabi

How is Abu Dhabi positioned as a location for the development of media and entertainment content?

NOURA AL KAABI: As with other places around the world, Arabs have grown up watching locally made media, movies and other forms of entertainment. We enjoyed watching Arabic films and other types of entertainment, but the development of this local content, in terms of technology and the industry in general, is behind the times. We continue to consume this content, but don’t enjoy it as much as that coming from Hollywood, Europe or even East Asia. Arabic content is not as dynamic as it used to be, whether that is in the diversity of genres, special effects, production capabilities or other aspects of the entertainment industry. We aren’t saying that there isn’t an industry, but that it needs development.

Prior to launching twofour54, we examined the international market in order to see how Abu Dhabi could be different. It was important to not only develop a media park which encourages international companies to set up in the emirate by offering business facilitation; we wanted to ensure that content was being created locally. The main driver around content creation is offering services such as production, studio development and all the associated human capital that is required. This will help facilitate content creation in Abu Dhabi which is then exported, rather than importing content from abroad. Since 2008, over 8000 content hours have been produced here, and the addition of Sky News Arabia will greatly boost the amount that is broadcasted.

What steps are being taken to train human capital to support the burgeoning media industry?

AL KAABI: The main services that will help our partners develop an industry here is the training academy. The training academy is a partnership between 12 institutes from around the world, and all the courses are related to media and entertainment creation. One example is the Cartoon Network’s dedicated training academy. This is an important development which will ensure there is a programme to support the Arab animation industry and allow people to develop their own content. Similarly, the twofour54 gaming academy, in partnership with Ubisoft, will enable students to achieve the skills necessary to enter this fast-growing segment. At the same time, future games will have more relevance to the region as more graduates from this programme enter the industry.

To what extent will developing Arabic content help deliver a more tailored perspective and bridge the communication gap between East and West?

AL KAABI: Bridging this gap revolves around the type and amount of content that is created. All our local media partners are creating content, whether it is a video game, short film or corporate video; the more content that is created, the better. Three years ago not much content was created in Abu Dhabi, but this is changing and will help people abroad to understand the culture and situation in the Arab world. Here at twofour54, we are focused on developing Arabic content to target the world’s 340m Arabic speakers. It is important the content is in the Arabic language, but even more so that it is created in a place that is relevant to the language and has a local perspective.

What role do international media agencies play in supporting these ambitions?

AL KAABI: These international agencies help create awareness and also encourage more media companies to set up in Abu Dhabi; thankfully there are now many anchor partners established here. Currently, we aim to attract more film and TV production to Abu Dhabi. International production companies that film in the emirate will now receive a 30% cash-back rebate on their qualifying spend during production. Attracting more filmmakers and production companies will increase their understanding of the local market, which will also help to change public perception. These companies will also help to grow the industry through talent exchange programmes and many other initiatives.