Abu Dhabi vies to become region's new media hub

Abu Dhabi on Sunday unveiled ambitious plans for a new media zone, called twofour54, which will serve as a 'collaborative campus' where Western media companies and Gulf oil dollars mix with young Arab talent to tap a still underdeveloped market.
A rendering of the future Abu Dhabi media zone, twofour54, which will be operational in early 2009. R.R.

ABU DHABI, October 13, 2008 (MENASSAT) — Abu Dhabi on Sunday unveiled a new media zone called "twofour54," which the Emirate hopes will establish Abu Dhabi as the "centre of excellence for Arabic content creation."

The name "twofour54"  refers to the geographical coordinates (longitude and latitude) for Abu Dhabi.

The new 200,000 square meters media zone will start operating by the beginning of 2009, offering production facilities, infrastructure, training and a new business incubator for the development of world class Arabic content by people from the Middle East region.

'A collaborative campus'

Abu Dhabi has already signed agreements with some of the biggest names in the Western and Middle Eastern media industry, including CNN, BBC, National Geographic Films and the Financial Times; the Thomson Foundation (a media development NGO) and the Thomson Reuters Foundation; publishers Random House and Harper Collins; C Sky Pictures, Rotana Studies and the Abu Dhabi Media Company who will all be setting up offices there.

Speaking at the launch, Tony Orsten, Chief Executive Officer of twofour54, said, "The Abu Dhabi 2030 vision seeks to establish the Emirate as a regional center for culture with a 'global capital city' as its hub. An extremely important part of achieving this vision lies in creating a thriving international media industry which, to be successful, needs to be local at the same time," he said.

Twofour54 will work like "a collaborative campus where all types of media companies would work together."

Arab students and media professionals from around the world can apply to the twofour54 training program.

Orsten stressed that twofour54 will not influence the content of media productions. Most of the content produced will be in Arabic. There would be some English content as well.

"There is no underlying ideology that guides our work, and we do not have any opinions regarding what should be produced. We want to enable and give Arabs opportunities to raise the quality of Arab media content," he said.

Twofour54 is built around four pillars:

- twofour54 tadreeb (training);
- twofour54 ibtikar (innovation);
- twofour54 intaj (production) and
- twofour54 tawasol (communication).

twofour54 tadreeb will be the region's premier vocational training academy, targeting young Arabs and graduates considering a career in the media industry as well as providing existing media and entertainment professionals with opportunities to develop skills, up-skill and re-skill across a comprehensive range of media and content industry disciplines.

twofour54 ibtikar will provide innovation support and funding for new, local businesses and promising creative ideas across print, online, mobile and television platforms in the Middle East and North Africa. This fund will not only provide financial support but also practical advice and input from industry experts and specialists to guide initiatives to successful fruition.

twofour54 intaj is focused on supplying state-of-the-art production and post-production facilities, media asset management, broadcast and technical support services for use within twofour54. It equips companies with all of the latest communications technology required, including playout, uplink and downlink services.

Finally, twofour54 tawasol provides a one-stop-shop facility to support the relocation and establishment of content organizations at twofour54.

CNN has already announced that it will start broadcasting from the new Abu Dhabi facilities.

CNN's Abu Dhabi operation complements its presence in Dubai and will be a fourth international broadcast center alongside the existing facilities in London, Hong Kong and Mexico City, and the U.S. production centers in Atlanta, Washington DC, New York and Los Angeles.

"Our UAE expansion is one of our boldest editorial undertakings of recent years and one that builds on our existing news gathering heritage in the region," said Tony Maddox, executive vice president and managing director of CNN International.

In addition to the launch of live daily news programming, CNN will also move the production of its popular Middle East focused feature shows Inside the Middle East and Marketplace Middle East to the UAE.

The new CNN hub will be a custom-built news centre overseen by the newly created position of managing editor CNN Abu Dhabi. The operation will house approximately 30 staff, including a new CNN International anchor, and programming, production and newsgathering staff who will play a key role in increasing CNN's coverage of the Gulf and the wider Middle East for all of CNN Worldwide's networks.

The BBC will be part of twofour54's training program.

Caroline Prendergast, Director of Training and Development at BBC, said the BBC will be providing one-on-one training in film-making and production skills.

Imagination, which was established by Abu Dhabi Media Company (ADMC) to create full-length feature films and digital content for the Arab world, will be a founding partner of twofour54, and one of its main initiatives will be the establishment of National Geographic Films producing Arabic programming for the region.

Jake Ebert, Chairman of National Geographic Films, said he hoped the movies would capture the uniqueness of Arab culture in its diversity, stressing that the productions will not be modeled after Hollywood productions.


Thomson Reuters Foundation will be hosting vocational training workshops in subjects such as writing international news, sports or photo journalism, television news coverage and writing business news;
Thomson Foundation will provide exclusive, tailor-made training courses and study visits covering every aspect of radio, television and online journalism, from reporting and production to media regulation;
Random House will be creating an Arabic publishing house, creating fresh material and adapting some of its existing content for the region while investing in developing a stable of successful Arab authors;
Rotana Studios plans to develop, produce and co-produce with Abu Dhabi Media Zone projects initiated out of the Gulf area;
The Financial Times launched a Middle East regional edition based in the UAE in April this year. The operation of this regional edition will be located at twofour5;
Thomson Reuters are setting up a photo agency and establishing a Sharia-compliant financial information portal which will provide financial information in accordance with the principals of Islamic law;
Harper Collins will be introducing their bestselling Reading Scheme, Big Cat: a guided reading scheme for children, localized for the Arab market and creating a totally new range of Arabic dictionaries into English, French and Hindi;
C Sky Pictures, a leading film production company from Kuwait, best known for its award-winning documentaries around the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and the September 11, 2001 attacks, will be establishing its new operations at twofour54;
Comedy Arabia will set up at twofour54, led by Ahmed Ahmed of the comedy group Axis of Evil. This new initiative aims to encourage budding Arabic comedians and discover the hidden talents of the Arab world through an interactive portal, www.comedyarabia.com;
Flash is the music promoter and event production agency behind global acts that have headlined in Abu Dhabi, including Justin Timberlake, Bon Jovi and Elton John. Flash will be establishing its head office at twofour54.

For Abu Dhabi, the media zone is part of an ongoing effort to put itself on the map by becoming a hub for the media and the arts – much as competing Dubai has become the regional financial and leisure center.

It is the third major investment in media undertaken by Abu Dhabi recently. Another arm of the government, the Abu Dhabi Media Company, last year agreed to a $1 billion deal to make video games and movies with Warner Brothers, the Hollywood studio owned by Time Warner. More recently, the company announced it would spend $1 billion to start a film financing offshoot that will invest in Hollywood-style movies for English-speaking audiences.

"For most Western content companies, this region has not been fully engaged with,” Wayne Borg, a former Universal Studios executive who is chief operating officer of Abu Dhabi Media Zone, told The New York Times. "There is certainly a market opportunity here. This region is a growth story."

According to a global study by PWC (Global Entertainment and Media Outlook report, 2008-2012), the Middle East Media market is forecast to expand at double-digit annual rates over the next five years, by far outstripping the average of 6.6 percent growth across the rest of the world.

This article is based in part on a press release from Hill & Knowlton Abu Dhabi.

For further media information please contact:

Omar Abed Rabbo
Hill & Knowlton Abu Dhabi
Mobile: +971 (0)50 584 2741
Email: omar.abedrabbo@hillandknowlton.com

Mariam Emneina
Hill & Knowlton Abu Dhabi
Mobile: +971 (0)50 711 6636
Email: mariam.emneina@hillandknowlton.com

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