Don't believe the hype - create it

    After a whirlwind month of activity in Abu Dhabi, it is easy to see why many outsiders fail to look beyond the Emirates when considering entry into the Middle East broadcast industry.
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    After a whirlwind month of activity in Abu Dhabi, it is easy to see why many outsiders fail to look beyond the Emirates when considering entry into the Middle East broadcast industry.

    This is a grave error. The results of the developments that have emanated from Abu Dhabi in the past four to six weeks will be largely unseen until the infrastructure is put in place, the tenants move in and the young talent being trained assume leadership positions within the industry.

    However, for now the reality of the broadcast industry is by no means as one-sided as the headlines (particularly those appearing in international publications) may suggest.

    Dubai Media City was by no means the first such hub in the region and in terms of the film industry, rivals in Egypt, Jordan, Iran, Syria and Morocco are far more productive.

    The major FTA networks LBC and MBC are Saudi owned (though the latter is based in Dubai) and two of the three pay TV networks are based outside the UAE. The two largest news networks, Al Arabiya and Al Jazeera are Saudi- and Qatari-owned respectively.

    A Booz Allen Hamilton report estimated that 65 percent of Arabic-language TV serials were produced in Egypt in 2006.
     

    There is no UAE presence in the satellite operation business - until Yahsat sends its first hardware into orbit next year - Jordan's Orange-branded IPTV is leading the way on that front and Qatar has beaten the pack to implement the first DVB-H mobile TV service in the region.

    With all this activity going on right across the MENA region, why is it that the UAE is often considered the local industry's overwhelmingly dominant force?

    The answer may be as simple as convenience. Two well-connected international airports, CABSAT in Dubai and a momentum created by unrelated developments (think Manchester City and Burj Dubai).

    It will be interesting to see how Doha's proposed media city develops. Despite being a genuine newcomer to the list of (emerging) media hubs, the cluster has several significant advantages. Firstly, an international airport with good regional links as well. There is Qtel, an ambitious telco embracing new media platforms and drawing attention.

    Finally, the Al Jazeera Network, a major backer of the project, lends a huge amount of legitimacy to sceptics unfamiliar with the country let alone a yet to be constructed media zone.

    The Al Jazeera brand will also help with marketing the destination, a daunting task given the resources and expertise demonstrated by the UAE in recent times. The fight for the right to deliver the headlines, may lie in your ability to make them.

    John Parnell is the deputy editor of Digital Broadcast.

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