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H.E. Maryam Eid AlMheiri, Vice-Chair of Abu Dhabi’s me­dia zone, twofour54, tells us about the cap­i­tal’s con­tin­ued growth as a global and re­gional hub for the me­dia and en­ter­tain­ment in­dus­tries.

Forbes Middle East - - FORBES MIDDLE EAST / TWOFOUR54 -

Twofour54 is rec­og­nized as one of the top me­dia hubs in the re­gion. What is driv­ing this suc­cess?

With content cre­ation at the heart of its mis­sion, twofour54 is to­day home to more than 500 me­dia firms from around the world, in­clud­ing in­ter­na­tional names such as CNN and Ubisoft. We also have a thriv­ing en­tre­pre­neur­ial sec­tor that in­cludes a pool of more than 600 free­lancers.

They come to us be­cause we have the right fa­cil­i­ties, tal­ent and ser­vices to help them suc­ceed and grow thanks to Abu Dhabi’s me­dia ecosys­tem. We of­fer a com­plete value chain for the in­dus­try. From a sim­ple li­cens­ing process, flex­i­ble and re­spon­si­ble reg­u­la­tory frame­work, and of­fice so­lu­tions, to net­work­ing pro­grammes, ed­u­ca­tion and train­ing for as­pir­ing tal­ent. We also have an on­line por­tal that con­nects our part­ners with live ten­der­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties to sus­tain and re­tain them.

The Abu Dhabi gov­ern­ment has iden­ti­fied a strong and sus­tain­able me­dia sec­tor as one of the pil­lars of its eco­nomic vi­sion, cre­at­ing a wel­com­ing en­vi­ron­ment for me­dia firms as it con­tin­ues to look for new ways to im­prove the ease of do­ing busi­ness. Re­cent ini­tia­tives in­clude in­tro­duc­ing on­shore li­cences for free zone com­pa­nies, and waiv­ing li­cens­ing and reg­is­tra­tion fees as part of a se­ries of re­forms un­der “Ghadan 21” or “To­mor­row 2021”—a three-year, AED 50 bil­lion pro­gramme aimed at stim­u­lat­ing in­vest­ment, cre­at­ing jobs and boost­ing eco­nomic growth. As a re­sult, the num­bers of small busi­nesses and en­trepreneur­s in our me­dia zone dou­bled in 2019.

Oc­to­ber marked twofour54’s 11th an­niver­sary. Which mile­stones are you par­tic­u­larly proud of?

So many. But there are three ar­eas in par­tic­u­lar: our peo­ple, our Ara­bic content, and the qual­ity of what we have to of­fer.

Our Cre­ative Lab is a phys­i­cal and vir­tual space where mem­bers bring their own projects to life us­ing the lat­est pro­duc­tion equip­ment, shad­ow­ing me­dia pro­fes­sion­als, and boost­ing their skills and ex­pe­ri­ence through in­tern­ships, work­shops and cour­ses. It has around 14,000 mem­bers, and 32% of the com­pa­nies on cam­pus are now Emi­rati owned and op­er­ated.

As a re­sult, we are cre­at­ing more and more Ara­bic content for the world’s 400-mil­lion-plus Ara­bic speak­ers who rep­re­sent strong de­mand for qual­ity content but suf­fer from a short­age of sup­ply. This ranges from If­tah Ya Sim Sim—the hugely pop­u­lar chil­dren’s show based on the iconic chil­dren’s se­ries Se­same Street—to our ground­break­ing col­lab­o­ra­tion with MBC and Im­age Na­tion to de­velop the world’s first Ara­bic-lan­guage soap­opera, In­her­i­tance.

We’ve also be­come the re­gional home to global com­pa­nies in­clud­ing CNN and Ubisoft, as well as Hol­ly­wood and Bol­ly­wood block­busters. Since the Abu Dhabi Film Com­mis­sion launched a 30% re­bate on pro­duc­tion spend in 2013, more than 80 ma­jor pro­duc­tions from Hol­ly­wood, Bol­ly­wood and the Arab World have been shot here, in­clud­ing “Mis­sion: Im­pos­si­ble – Fall­out”, star­ring Tom Cruise, and “Tiger Zinda Hai”, which smashed records at the box of­fice to be­come In­dia’s high­est gross­ing ac­tion movie. The UAE is now the fourth choice world­wide for Bol­ly­wood film pro­duc­tion.

Where do you see the big­gest growth op­por­tu­ni­ties in the me­dia in­dus­try? The global film and TV pro­duc­tion sec­tor is ex­pe­ri­enc­ing an un­prece­dented surge in de­mand for stu­dios, lo­ca­tions and crew due to the rise of stream­ing ser­vices of­fered di­rectly to view­ers. These ser­vices are also cre­at­ing new lo­cal lan­guage content in ma­jor growth mar­kets, in­clud­ing MENA. Ac­cord­ing to con­sul­tancy Ols­berg SPI, content bud­gets for both tra­di­tional Hol­ly­wood stu­dios and stream­ing ser­vices are es­ti­mated at $85 bil­lion—$10 bil­lion higher than 2014. This tra­jec­tory is fore­cast to con­tinue for the medium term.

Mean­while, the gam­ing in­dus­try glob­ally is now worth more than $150 bil­lion, and in the U.A.E., gam­ing rev­enue per capita is one of the high­est in the world. An­i­ma­tion pro­vides sup­port as con­sumers ex­pect bet­ter visual ef­fects in films, higher qual­ity graph­ics in gam­ing, and a more im­mer­sive con­sump­tion ex­pe­ri­ence.

What are the re­gional trends you think will shape the sec­tor in the com­ing years?

The big­gest is the size of the youth pop­u­la­tion. Peo­ple aged un­der 30 com­prise more than 65% of the Arab

world’s pop­u­la­tion—far more than in many de­vel­oped coun­tries. These young peo­ple are nat­u­ral con­sumers of content, grow­ing up sur­rounded by dig­i­tal me­dia and an ar­ray of chan­nels that older gen­er­a­tions never had. They are an im­por­tant de­mo­graphic for content cre­ators as con­sumers, but equally a huge source of fu­ture tal­ent as well.

The young pop­u­la­tion is one of the rea­sons why dig­i­tal me­dia plays such an in­te­gral role in the ev­ery­day lives of peo­ple in the re­gion, which is the sec­ond trend. Over 71% of in­ter­net users are also ac­tive so­cial me­dia users, and al­most three bil­lion peo­ple, or a third of the world’s pop­u­la­tion, are ac­tive on so­cial me­dia in one form or an­other in this re­gion alone. Content cre­ators need to re­spond to this ap­petite for dig­i­tal me­dia.

There is also huge de­mand for qual­ity Ara­bic content but a short­age of sup­ply. The Ara­bic-speak­ing world en­com­passes more than 420 mil­lion peo­ple, nearly two-thirds of whom are un­der the age of 30—this is a larger po­ten­tial mar­ket­place of en­ter­tain­ment con­sumers than the EU. Yet Ara­bic content on­line rep­re­sents just 3% of all on­line content. We fore­see busi­nesses cre­at­ing more Ara­bic content to tap into the po­ten­tial of the re­gion.

What’s next for twofour54?

We’re com­mit­ted to boost­ing the hu­man cap­i­tal in our me­dia ecosys­tem by de­vel­op­ing, at­tract­ing and re­tain­ing best-in-class in­di­vid­ual prac­ti­tion­ers and pro­fes­sion­als. The cre­ative in­dus­tries keep con­verg­ing and new ar­eas keep emerg­ing, so we are at­tract­ing tal­ent through youth camps, aca­demic out­reach in schools and uni­ver­si­ties, ed­u­ca­tion pro­grams, pro­fes­sional train­ing, and a highly-skilled co­hort of free­lancers. At­tract­ing the best peo­ple, com­pa­nies and pro­duc­tions is vi­tal for twofour54 and the wider in­dus­try, but also Abu Dhabi’s econ­omy as a whole given the power of en­ter­tain­ment and me­dia to ed­u­cate and in­form.

Our new Yas cam­pus is now al­most 100% full, and will fea­ture state-of-the-art of­fices, TV stu­dios, re­tail and re­cre­ation. Over time, we ex­pect it to grow in phases to more than 300,000 square me­tres in size, ac­com­mo­dat­ing 10,000 pro­fes­sion­als. To com­ple­ment our new home on Yas, we are also look­ing to es­tab­lish a ded­i­cated pro­duc­tion hub in Abu Dhabi that would in­clude sets, stu­dios, and a per­ma­nent back­lot. This Stu­dio City is in the de­sign and mas­ter-plan­ning phase now. So over­all, we are in an in­cred­i­bly strong growth phase now and for the com­ing years.

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