Sharjah took another step towards transforming itself into a regional media leader in the first half of 2017, issuing business licences and renting office space at the emirate’s new media free zones, Sharjah Media City and Sharjah Publishing City.
Media free zone offer incentives to companies and freelance professionals
In the first quarter of the year Sharjah Media City, also known as Shams, began issuing licences to investors, with the aim of attracting companies, freelancers and entrepreneurs in the media, technology and creative industries of the UAE and further afield.
Launched in January, Shams aims to rival more established free zones in neighbouring emirates as the free zone of choice for domestic and international media companies, as well as for freelance media professionals working in the Gulf region.
Among the benefits offered to companies registering with the zone are exemptions from taxes and local fees, 100% foreign ownership, complete repatriation of capital and profits, free transfer of funds, access to necessary permits and business licences, and assistance in gaining residency permits for foreign employees.
Sharjah Publishing City begins renting office space to investors
In tandem with the developments at Shams, Sharjah Publishing City – billed as the first free trade zone for the publishing industry – began renting out office space to companies in the first quarter of the year.
Previously known as Sharjah Book City, the 19,000-sq-metre site has received strong interest to date from investors in India and France, and is now looking to tap African markets, according to Ahmed Al Ameri, chairman of the Sharjah Book Authority.
The zone aims to bring different parts of the industry together in one location, housing publishers, translators, distributors and other sector stakeholders, with year-round markets, fairs and other events.
Officials hope upgrades, which will increase the size of the free zone to 60,000 sq metres, will be ready for an official launch in time for the Sharjah International Book Fair in November. At present, the zone has around 350 office spaces to rent, as well as land where new facilities can be developed. Al Ameri estimates up to 1500 people will be located at the site initially, with this figure rising to as high as 10,000 in the future.
Tapping regional demand for books, journals and Arabic-language content
While the emirate already has a strong footprint in terms of Arabic-language print news media, strengthening the local books and journals segments could help Sharjah tap into a growing regional market.
“A lot of people just see print as newspapers, but we also need to consider books, magazines and journals,” Fagr Kassim Ali, manager of Sharqiya from Kalba TV at Sharjah Media Corporation, told OBG earlier this year.
The region imports roughly $1bn worth of books and related materials annually, Al Ameri told a panel at last year’s Sharjah International Book Fair, and this figure is expanding by around 11% a year. In the UAE alone the publishing market is worth some $233m, and could triple in value by 2030.
With more than 400m Arabic speakers in the world, Arabic-language content is another area of strong growth. In addition to robust demand for books, Arabic ranks as the fastest-growing language on the internet, and yet estimates suggest only 1-3% of online content is currently in Arabic.
Sharjah to build on established media role and seek new partners
The emirate has a long history when it comes to the media industry, and has often been at the forefront of media development in the UAE.
Al Khaleej, the largest Arabic-language newspaper in the UAE, is based in Sharjah, along with a growing number of local and regional television channels, popular radio stations, books and journals.
However, the establishment of media free zones in the federation’s two largest emirates – Dubai Media City in Dubai and twofour54 in Abu Dhabi – has prompted Sharjah to refocus on capitalising on the significant growth potential of media and creative industries.
Marwan bin Jassim Al Sarkal, CEO of Sharjah Investment and Development Authority (Shurooq), has said he sees Bollywood, the Indian cinema industry, as a potential growth opportunity.
India has the largest cinema market in the world by number of films produced, with consultancy Deloitte projecting its revenues will rise by a compound annual growth rate of 11% to reach $3.7bn by 2020.
A number of Indian and Bollywood films featured Sharjah in the 1980s and 1990s, but production has largely shifted to Dubai in the intervening years.
“Now is the time to go back to what we were doing perfectly well, and [see] how we can make use of it,” Al Sarkal told local media last year, highlighting a range of potential incentives, ranging from streamlined visas and licensing, to financial benefits and logistical support.