YouTube opens new Dubai studio that's free for those with more than 10,000 subscribers

We speak to a top YouTube exec about why the Middle East is so important and whether new social media laws will influence the video giant

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Dubai is now home to the world’s 10th YouTube Space, a fully equipped studio and post-production facility where YouTube content creators can access the facilities, training and community support to take their productions to the next level, in partnership with the social media giant.

The 6,000 square-foot Dubai facility follows similar spaces in London, São Paulo, Tokyo, Mumbai, Paris, Berlin, New York, Los Angeles and Toronto, and features two studios, a production room, two editing suites, workshop space, communal areas and a ready set that will change themes on a quarterly basis. Users will also have access to the very latest in camera, lighting and sound equipment, and the wisdom of YouTube staff on site.

The Space is undergoing a soft launch with limited access to facilities for creators but after Ramadan it will become fully operational. Content creators with more than 1,000 subscribers on YouTube will be able to access workshops and events, and those with more than 10,000 will be able to access the full range of equipment and facilities.

The launch comes at a time of unprecedented growth for YouTube. The number of channels that regularly update to the platform has grown by 160 per cent in just three years in the Mena region, while the region plays host to more than 200 channels that each have over a million YouTube subscribers.

Why the Middle East is so important to YouTube

David Ripert, head of YouTube Spaces Europe, Middle East and Africa, believes YouTube is offering content creators something very different to the traditional media company model. “I came to YouTube from Hollywood, via Netflix, and when I arrived this whole massive model with support for the creators was just mind-blowing because we embrace all kinds of content, but the creators are in control rather than us,” he says.

“We’re just there to support them and help them make a living, which is very different. We provide the technology and tools for them to make money, whether it’s ad share revenue or YouTube Spaces or the YouTube Academy programme. The traditional media is very much controlled by the TV and film companies, which is fine; it’s a different model, but with us, it’s very much the creators that are in control.”

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates -  David Ripert, Head of YouTube spaces in Europe, Middle East and Africa at Dubai Studio City on March 18, 2018. (Khushnum Bhandari/ The National)

The Middle East is one of YouTube’s most vibrant markets – as well as those impressive growth figures, the region has some of the highest consumption rates in the world, while Saudi Arabia holds the outright record for mobile phone consumption.

I ask Ripert how he explains the region’s love of the platform, as content creators or audience. “I think historically, content creators in the region didn’t have access to film schools or a cinema industry, so this idea of making very simple content, maybe just with a mobile phone or a DSLR and then uploading it onto YouTube proved really popular,” he says.

“Secondly, Arabic language content is so popular worldwide; there’s really a huge demand for that and a lot of it is coming from the UAE, Saudi, Egypt and so on. There are so many young Arabic speakers out there and these creators are really making what the new generation is asking for.”

'How to turn yourself into a brand'

There’s a well-known internet meme detailing the vagaries of the post-digital economy: the world’s biggest transport company (Uber) owns no vehicles; the world’s biggest hotel company (Airbnb) owns no hotels, it begins. YouTube has a fair claim to the title of world’s biggest TV channel, but historically it has not made any of its own shows. Now however, YouTube is increasingly becoming closely involved in the creation of content for the platform, whether through providing equipment, training and facilities in YouTube Spaces, or by funding original content through its recently launched YouTube Red.

Read more:

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YouTube’s chief business officer, Robert Kyncl, doesn’t see anything unusual about YouTube’s increasingly hands-on approach to facilitating and funding production. He says: “The best way to think is that we’ve always been a platform, so we’ve always been facilitating people to some degree, but we’ve just grown so much. The audiences are now very large and we’re seeing very large revenues flowing through too, so it’s totally worth the creators putting the time in to really engage audiences. They can actually create businesses and make brands out of themselves.”

Although Kyncl insists the move to Spaces and giving increased support to content creators was a logical progression, he admits YouTube hadn’t predicted the heights some of the platform’s most popular stars could actually reach.

“We’re at a stage now where YouTube creators can move into other areas like merchandising, which don’t necessarily have anything to do with the videos, but commercialising the creator’s brand. We didn’t necessarily plan on that, but it’s been wonderful to watch it happen.”

What about the UAE's new influencer laws?

The launch of Dubai’s YouTube Space does come at an interesting time for the region’s growing band of social media stars, with the UAE government having just passed a new law that requires those who make money from their online excursions to acquire a licence. There’s still some uncertainty about exactly how, and for who, the law will be enacted, but Ripert doesn’t see the new regulations causing any undue problems for YouTube.

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates - Extremely popular YouTube artists of the United Arab Emirates excited about the new YouTube Space at Dubai Studio City on March 18, 2018. (Khushnum Bhandari/ The National)

“As far as the new law goes, it’s early days, so we’ll have to wait and see,” he says. “In general though, we’re a platform dedicated to creators for them to put their video up. We’re not the ones to tell them what to do, but we do ask them to respect the rules of our community and local law. We’ll educate them as much as we can to achieve that but it is ultimately their responsibility.”

He says the new regulations could even lead to an improvement in the quality of content in the region. “It’s also about upscaling yourself and learning how professionals work in the industry, and ultimately that can only be a good thing,” he says. 

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