By Rachael Turk in Abu Dhabi
Amidst the rubble of global financial ruin, a production wellspring was launched in Abu Dhabi yesterday (October 12) to promote international partnerships in content creation.
In what is both a "strength in numbers" approach and acknowledgement that the media industry is now an inherently global one, Abu Dhabi’s new government-sponsored media authority twofour54 is actively seeking partnerships around the world to develop content for a 300 million-strong Middle Eastern and North African (MENA) audience – an audience only set to increase in line with the region’s other long-term strategic investments: property development and tourism.
Described by CEO Tony Orsten as a "supportive eco-culture for excellence", the startup has grown from initial projections of a 30,000m2 campus to a 250,000m2 site including a waterfront location.
Due to open officially early next year, the company will employ a staff of approximately 200 across its training academy (twofour54 tadreeb); incubator with two funding solutions, the iFund and the Creative Lab (twofour54 ibtikar); and post-production facilities, media asset management and technical support (twofour54 intaj); and relocations services through its Property Management department (twofour54 tawasol).
Partners already on board include CNN, BBC, the Thomson Reuters Foundation, Random House, Harper Collins, CSky Pictures and the recently announced Imagenation Film Fund.
And while twofour54’s chief operating officer – Australian Wayne Borg, formerly executive VP of International for Universal – concedes the aim is to produce Arabic content only, he sees huge potential for Australian content developers to join the hub.
"There is a growth platform for a lot of international companies that may or may not, for whatever reason, have been directly involved in this part of the world historically," he tells Inside Film.
"While a lot of their core markets are under a lot of stress right now, this presents a good growth opportunity."
With 60 percent of the local population under 25, Borg describes this as the "sweet spot" in terms of leisure entertainment consumption. And with mobile UAE phone penetration standing at 150 percent and web penetration strong, there is particular opportunity for mobile content, mobisodes and online initiatives.
twofour54 plans to house film companies, TV and music producers and digital experts and again, Borg, who helps accelerate the requisite licenses for international companies, says much synergy might be found with Australia.
"It’s about formats, as well as post-production and production know-how.
"Australia has always been at the forefront in these areas and there’s no reason why those skillsets can’t be brought here to help build the Arabic content industry in the same way as Australians have gone to the US and shown the way there."
The launch of twofour54 comes in the midst of the Middle Eastern International Film Festival (MEIFF) and less than a week after the city’s second annual Circle, a confab dedicated to the cultivation of Middle Eastern Film talent. Other cultural plans for the city include the building of a Louvre and Guggenheim museum.
An estimated US$1 trillion has been invested in the development of Abu Dhabi, accounting for 29 percent of all planning in the entire Gulf region.