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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.
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.