Key fact

Media is expected to account for 3.5 per cent of the UAE’s gross domestic product by 2030

Source: MEED

The Abu Dhabi government has invested more than $30bn in the arts and media sectors in a bid to diversify its economy away from oil. The sector is expected to contribute 3.5 per cent of the UAE’s gross domestic product by 2030.

The $27bn Saadiyat Island will house some of the art world’s most prestigious names. France’s Louvre and the US’ Guggenheim Museum will both lend their names to museums that are intended to make Abu Dhabi the cultural capital of the region.

Content creation in Abu Dhabi

Another initiative is Twofour54, which was founded in 2009 by Abu Dhabi Media Authority. Twofour54 is a community for Arabic content creation in the media and entertainment sectors. Over the past two years, it has worked to provide infrastructure for the film, television broadcast, digital, gaming, publishing and music industries in Abu Dhabi.

The site is split into four sections, each focusing on different areas of expertise. Ibtikar is the funding arm of the company and provides help and support to early-stage businesses and individuals in the media and entertainment sector. Intaj provides production facilities; Tadreeb is a training academy for creators; and Tawasol helps companies to relocate and establish a presence at Twofour54.

Since its inception, companies using its facilities have produced 35,000 hours of content. Twofour54 continues to sign partnerships across all sectors of the media. In May, it signed a memorandum of understanding with UAE-based telecoms operator Du, offer its broadcast, mobile and fixed telecom services to Twofour54 and its partner companies.

Twofour54 aims to fulfil the regional need for Arabic content, particularly online. Currently, Arabs make up 5 per cent of internet users, but only 1 per cent of online content is in Arabic.

“The beauty of this region is you have a marketplace that operates on a regional basis,” says Wayne Borg, deputy chief executive officer and chief operating officer at Twofour54.

More than 350 million people speak Arabic in the Middle East and North Africa region, and 60 per cent of the population is below 25 years of age.

“There is very little content that speaks to this young audience across any of the sectors, so the opportunity lies in creating content for that group,” says Borg.

For now, the biggest challenge in addressing this opportunity, is a skills shortage in the UAE. While the centre has attracted some of the best-known names in the international media industry, it is up against a traditional Emirati culture that sees a career in media as a soft option.

“In the medium to long term, our challenge is to fill the jobs that are being created here and make sure that enough local people want to pursue a career in the creative industry,” says Borg.

Much of the demand for space at Twofour54 has come from foreign media companies looking to address an international audience instead. “These organisations have come here as they see a future in Abu Dhabi and the region. They bring a skills set and knowledge that we want to transfer locally to help develop the potential of the sector,” says Borg.

To date, Twofour54’s premises house 110 different companies, including the UK’s BBC and Financial Times, the US’ CNN and regional companies such as Saudi Arabia’s Rotana and Egypt’s Melody TV.

“It’s a very interesting mix of members in the community, which drives the ecosystem,” says Borg.

Investment funds for media start-ups in the UAE

The company is still looking to attract local talent and encourages entrepreneurship and innovation through various investment funds and grants. While the management refuses to outline its budget for these activities, Twofour54 invests anything between $0.5m-$5m in a new start-up to promote innovation and help locals gain entry into the industry.

It also provides grants of $40,000-$800,000 to develop new content ideas across all the sectors.

It is thought that by 2014, about $3bn will have been spent by Twofour54 on achieving its aims, namely contributing to the growth of Abu Dhabi’s knowledge-based economy.

“Exporting locally created content to other parts of the world would be the ultimate signature of success for us,” says Borg.

If this is achieved, the company may expand further afield. “There is some merit in extending services regionally,” he says. “But Abu Dhabi will always be the beating heart of Twofour54.”