Abu Dhabi: Creating Culture

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The development of a thriving media and creative content industry in Abu Dhabi remains an important issue not only for economic diversification and inward investment, but also for the emirate’s goal of becoming a cultural centre.

According to its Economic Vision 2030, released early this year, the government of Abu Dhabi intends to make quality media production and Arabic-language content, both of which many believe to be underserved in the region, an important growth engine for the future.

“Large investments will be made in media development – including electronic media – in the coming years, leading to a number of gains for the broader economy,” the report stated.

These benefits are expected to include the creation of new highly skilled jobs, fresh investment potential and a shot in the arm for the broader local economy. “Fundamental support services will be key – accommodation, schooling, hotels and restaurants, plus the continued development of a skilled workforce through education and training. IT will also play a crucial role as it will provide a critical backbone to the infrastructure we are building,” Tony Orsten, the CEO of twofour54, a media production company, told OBG.

As part of the strategy to develop a favourable environment for a creative content industry, twofour54, a government-backed organisation, began operations in October 2008. The cornerstone behind government plans, twofour54 will cater to the film, broadcast, digital, gaming, publishing and music industries, and is expected to support companies and individuals involved in creative content across the Arab world.

Its operations include twofour54 tadreeb, a vocational training academy that opened last month; twofour54 ibtikar, which will provide innovation support and funding to new ideas; twofour54 intaj, a production and post-production facility; and twofour54 tawasol, which will support organisations starting operations in Abu Dhabi.

Given the current undersupply of quality media content and production within the region, policymakers believe that there is great potential for media growth.

According to a global study by PricewaterhouseCoopers’s “Global Entertainment and Media Outlook Report, 2008-2012”, the Middle East media market is forecast to grow at double-digit rates per year over the next five years. The region’s growth is expected to far outstrip the rest of the world, which is expecting an average expansion rate of 6.6%.

Digital media is just one of the areas that could be very rewarding. Although broadband penetration is still relatively low, it is growing rapidly and Arabic content available for these devices is still orientated towards consumption rather than production. However, as media convergence increases, the importance of digital as a medium and the need to provide a range of content to support it will increase. The demography of the Arab population – 60% of who are under 25 – also means one would expect adoption rates of new digital media to be strong, making it a profitable industry in the future.

Naturally the creation of any new sector will benefit the broader economy and community directly and indirectly, but there are also other important social aspects that the emirate is hoping to gain. For instance, Abu Dhabi wants to become a cultural centre within the region. Its $27bn Saadiyat Island project, which will house some of the world’s most famous museums, such as the Louvre Abu Dhabi and the Guggenheim museum project, is the cornerstone of that strategy.

But while the emirate’s deal to establish these museums on Saadiyat Island is a dream come true for art aficionados, many believe the emirate needs dynamic media and content industries to create an artistic environment that will stimulate Abu Dhabi’s home-grown creative community.

“If you look at the world’s great cultural hubs, places like New York, London and Tokyo, they all have one thing in common. They have rich and dynamic media and content industries,” said Orsten. “The two sectors naturally complement and stimulate each other. In many ways the relation between the cultural and the creative industries is symbiotic.”

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