Forecasts of double-digit annual advertising growth in the Middle East over the next five years have helped to lure an array of major international media brands to Abu Dhabi's newly created media zone, seeking to capitalise on a shift in the global balance of media power. According to PricewaterhouseCoopers's Global Entertainment and Media Outlook report, advertising spending in the region from this year to 2012 is expected to increase at a rate that far outstrips the average 6.6 per cent across the rest of the world. The epicentre of this growth is the UAE, which saw US$1.3 billion (Dh4.95bn) in advertising spending last year, the most of any country in the region, according to the Pan Arab Research Centre.
"The market opportunity is substantial by any measure, but the industry needs more than just location - it needs a cohesive environment that supports education, investment, collaboration and creative partnerships," said Wayne Borg, the chief operating officer of the media zone, called twofour54. "Twofour54 places media right at the heart of the Arab world and offers the tools and infrastructure for driving international-standard quality and success."
The legal framework for the zone was created in July last year by a decree signed by Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed, President of the UAE and Ruler of Abu Dhabi. It is a government authority. Tony Orsten, the chief executive of the zone, was hired last year. In his early talks with Khaldoon al Mubarak, the chief executive and managing director of Mubadala Development Company, a public joint stock company owned by the Government of Abu Dhabi, Mr Orsten found that the Government wanted to create something that could "complement Saadiyat Island, something that could take the creativity that is clearly in the region, and clearly in the UAE, and try to make it into successful businesses".
The media zone "represents a major milestone in Abu Dhabi's ongoing development as an innovative, global city, and a genuine capital of ideas," said Mr Mubarak, who also serves as the chairman of the Abu Dhabi Media Zone Authority. "It is also an important stop in the ongoing diversification of the emirate's economy." Mr Mubarak made the announcement beneath a giant spherical tent erected behind Marina Mall specifically for the zone's kick-off yesterday.
"We expect that over time, the impact of today's initiative will be felt far beyond Abu Dhabi and the United Arab Emirates, and will be felt throughout the region and across the world," he added. To some extent, Abu Dhabi's transformation into a media hub has already begun, with a big increase in media activity in the capital over the past year. The month before the zone authority was created, another decree established the Abu Dhabi Media Company (ADMC), which is the owner and publisher of The National, from the holdings of the former Emirates Media. The National was launched in April and soon afterwards, two other newspapers - the International Herald Tribune and the Financial Times - made their debut in the country.
"It shows there is huge interest in the region," said Ben Hughes, the global commercial director and deputy chief executive of the Financial Times. "There's a huge explosion of business that is going on at the moment in the Middle East. We wanted to be part of that media explosion." ADMC's digital divisions joined a partnership earlier this year with Arvato Middle East Sales, a subsidiary of Bertelsmann, to launch the online download service called Getmo. Combined with last month's launch of the company's billion-dollar film fund subsidiary, Imagenation Abu Dhabi, these have helped to give the capital a global media reach.
"The region is coming of age, and there is a real sense of an Arab renaissance," said Martin Newland, the editor of The National, speaking at the event. "I've seen it first-hand." @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org