Live, which started life as the outside broadcast arm of Abu Dhabi Media, has come a long way since it was formed in 2008 as a venture dedicated to handling the live broadcast from big national events and some sports.
Since that time, the company has grown its payroll five-fold, from 87 in 2008 to more than 500 people today, and last year expanded its offering to include production services, opening up an entirely new avenue of potential growth.
While that level of growth might have caused some company heads to feel giddy, Ali Obaid Buali, CEO of Live, appears to take it all in his stride. The company’s growth has been fast, but Buali insists it has been stable, with the unit adapting quickly to take on a higher volume of bigger projects during the past eight years.
Live broadcasts a vast range of live events including all national events in the UAE plus regular fixtures such as the Redbull Airshow, the Abu Dhabi Tour and all official football matches in the country.
“All the high-end events that are happening in the UAE predominantly are covered by Live – the National Day celebrations, the Mubadala Tennis championship, the golf competition. We have been doing the Volvo Ocean Race for the last two years, doing the UAE Football League for the last eight years. The return of the troops from Yemen was exclusively covered by Live,” BuaIi says. “That was big project – with all the highnesses attending the show. We have these key events that happen in the region, whether it is Bahrain or Saudi Arabia, we get called to cover on a year-to-year basis.”
Live also has a growing client base outside of Abu Dhabi Media, and carries out work for other broadcasters in the Gulf as well including MBC, DMI and beIN Sports. Indeed, Live already covers all live events for beIN Sports in the UAE. “We have struck a deal with beIN to be their broadcast partner outside of Qatar,” Buali says.
While Live has a vast array of technology as its disposal, including 10 OB vans, 12 studio and about 20 postproduction suites, Buali insists that it is the company’s ethos and overall service that has allowed it to form transformative deals and gain that all-important repeat business. “These kind of strategic partnerships don’t happen just because you have the latest technologies but because you are providing an overall service. It’s the relationship, the service, the after sale support,” he says.
But in mid-2015, Live also expanded its offering to include production services. Buali explains that the management of Abu Dhabi Media was happy with the standards and progress achieved by the unit and in outside broadcast and so decided to give it the opportunity to handle production services. “We are on that track trying to achieve and get the same standard of our core business which is Outside Broadcasting in services,” he says.
“We started from August 1, so this is our first six months. We provide almost all services, studios, transmission, post production, playout, LED trucks, everything that a production might need,” Buali says. “We are also running the day to day activities of the studios, we still rely on the core business which is outside broadcast but we are looking to diversifying into various production services: We want to tackle a wider clientele.”
It’s a business model that looks set to work well. With Live already working with major events on the broadcast side, it is a natural progression that it also starts offering production services.
However, with the economies of all oil producing nations cutting back on spending owing to the decline in oil prices, Live is also looking to expand its customer base away from national events and sports and productions from Abu Dhabi Media. There is certainly much work to go after, from productions by other broadcasters, events in other countries and commercial work.
“The plan is to try to break towards 50:50 by the end of 2016 and even stronger, widening our outside the house broadcasters to get more corporate and government clients from within the UAE and the GCC. We need to maintain these diverse sources of revenue so that we can maintain prosperity for the business and ultimately more profitability,” he says. “I strongly believe that we have the best team that can compete with the others companies in the market.
“In the past eight years, Live became a well-known brand and we are going to build on that strength. We are a pioneer in the region in OB vans and it is our aim that we are also going to reach to the same level in production services. This is our goal and we’re going to do it.”
While Live is relatively new to production services, it has already gained much of the knowledge and experience from performing the outside broadcast function, and adding production services can be seen as a natural extension of this. It has also already provided production services for some large events including the National Day celebrations, where Live had a crew and set up including 30 cameras.
However Live is also looking at other types of production, including film and TV. For example, Buali says that Live hired a team about two months ago to make two TV series this year for Abu Dhabi Media. “We see dramas and films as a growing area,” he says.
The company is prepared to look at all sizes of project, including events and production which require one or two cameras.
This is also important to increase the diversity of Live’s revenue streams. Traditionally, the majority of Live’s work has been around events which do not rely on private or commercial sponsors. Live is keen to diversify so that it is not heavily reliant on any one entity for its revenue stream. This is not to say that Live is witnessing any decline in any areas of the market, on the contrary business is growing, but in line with good business practice, diversification of revenues is viewed as a sensible course to follow. This is especially pertinent given the recent declines in the price of oil.
“If we’re talking on a geopolitical level, with the slump in oil prices and the political influences around the region, basically it has led to a more strategical approach of us being focused on more than one core business,” Buali says. “Covering a wider aspect would give us the flexibility to survive and thrive even during variable conditions.”
He adds that there is also a trend in the market towards shows and events being broadcast using smaller teams and here again, by diversifying, Live is able to gain business.
Furthermore, as Buali points out, Live is now competing with other players in the production space especially as this is the company’s first year in the production space.
Looking to the year ahead, Buali is confident about the growing the new side of the business and is also keen to ensure the growth in sustainable. “You need to be at least stable and focus and then could grow again and go to your target. This is what we are planning to do in 2016. I don’t want to speed up the maximum power and then we struggle. No — we have to focus first and then speed up.”
However, Buali concedes that there are some challenges in terms of encouraging the team to think in a more entrepreneurial way. This is because the staff have been used to working on government-based projects where commercial and customer service concerns were not necessarily a priority.
“We need to also change the mentality so they adapt to a mind-set of providing a service. They have to achieve the right level of client satisfaction. This is something that is not easy, it takes time, although they are really very skilled people and I have the utmost confidence in them.”
Plugging the skills gap
Another challenge that Live is addressing is to attract more young Emiratis into the broadcast and production industry, especially into technical and engineering roles. While many people may be deterred by the notoriously long hours associated with film and TV, and the exposure to outdoor heat in the height of the summer, Buali is confident that attitudes are changing. “The new generation they don’t mind working with their hands. They don’t mind being outside on location. I think in the three years we are going to increase the number of UAE nationals in the workforce.”
Ali Buali his career in broadcast as a studio engineer in 1999 in Abu Dhabi Media. Working on location, he gained solid experience of operations and developed a strong work ethic, understanding the need to provide excellent service to the client. In 2006 he won two projects for his unit of Abu Dhabi Media, the first project being the Gulf Cup. Following these projects, Live in 2008, with Buali as CEO.
The unit then developed quickly, taking on more and more major sporting events in the UAE and in neighbouring countries. “It was born to cover all the sports events. We started from the PLC, we covered the ProLeague.
“The first idea of establishing Live was to cover all sports events so Live is always connected and related to the sports events. We cover almost every kind of sports in the country - in the desert in the water, on air, on ground.”