Dubai has begun to thrive as a media hub since the emergence of Dubai Media City in January 2001. The brainchild of General Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the crown prince of Dubai, DMC, as it’s commonly known in the area, is the centerpiece of a strategy aimed at developing a “knowledge economy” away from the oil fueled economies of neighbors such as Saudi Arabia.
It’s all part of a plan to use today’s oil cash to develop an infrastructure that will sustain the economy once the oil money has run out.
Set up as a free-trade zone where foreign businesses can own 100% of their business, thereby removing the need for local partners that had proved an obstacle to foreign enterprise in the past, the city has mushroomed spectacularly, boasting over 550 media companies, including Sony, CNN, and Reuters.
It’s well on the way to achieving Maktoum’s vision of a diversified Dubai economy with 70% of GDP coming from the service sector. Crucial to DMC’s success has been its positioning as “an international cultural bridge” between east and west, the main theme of the DIFF.
DMC, which is run by CEO Abdul Hamid Juma, offers a base for media companies targeting anywhere from the Middle East, South Asia, Africa and increasingly Europe and America. It is estimated that the DMC offers companies a platform of a potential 1.6 billion people with a GDP of $1.1 trillion.
Such has been its success that office space is not available for a year.
If anything it’s been a little too successful. There’s an infrastructure problem now in that the place is full of cars. Dubai is very much a car-driven economy much like L.A. The government underestimated the number of people who would be working there, but a monorail is being built and is due for completion by 2006.
It’s often noted that DMC is in many ways a real estate project, tying in to Dubai’s other centers, notably Dubai Internet City
and Knowledge Village, as well as Samacom, a teleport set up to link Dubai’s many new channels to satellites. Also on the horizon is the Dubai Land — a vast $5 billion entertainment complex that will include six themed “worlds,” including a Retail and Entertainment World, set to open in 2006.
Work on the constructed city begin in earnest last year and is set to take up 2 billion square feet of land, nearly doubling the current size of used real estate in Dubai. Overseeing the project is the Dubai Development and Investment Authority (DDIA), an arm of the government dedicated to developing Dubai’s economy.
Its CEO is Saeed Muntafic, previously the CEO of DMC itself, a nod to the integrated thinking that has seen DMC emerge as a genuine player on the world media scene. The synergy between Dubai’s Media City and Internet City has been at the key of the DMC’s success in transforming the area into the broadcasting center of the Middle East. The whole city is wired with fiber- optic links, enabling the creation, post-production and uplinking of digital content with great ease. Showtime, the region’s most profitable satellite platform, opened the region’s largest broadcasting center capable of handling more than 200 TV channels in the DMC in May this year.
“Since opening the new headquarters, broadcast operations center and regional customer contact center in DMC in May 2004, all Showtime’s key operations are now in the same physical location,” says Peter Einstein, Showtime topper. “DMC was chosen as the location for our headquarters because it provides the necessary infrastructure, facilities and international connections to ensure our ability to deliver our business objectives. We are also in active negotiations with third parties to manage their play-out and uplink operations from our facility in DMC.”
As well as the numerous satcasters, DMC has also established a formidable focus with its publishing arm, attracted by the ease of uplinking and downlinking data, as well as the affordability of printing in Dubai. Some of the largest pan-Arab publishers in the region are located there, including Saudi Research and Publishing Co., the world’s second-largest after Time Warner.
Politically, despite being in a notoriously unstable region, Dubai has managed to balance what remains a relatively conservative native populace with the need for freedom of expression and speech so vital to maintain a flourishing media.
While offering Western-style lifestyles, with their myriad hotels, restaurants and entertainment facilities, one of the biggest challenges facing DMC is to continue offering Western-style salaries.
It offers expats salaries anywhere from six to 10 times higher than its closest regional rivals Cairo and Amman, Jordan. Whether this is sustainable remains to be seen.
Other issues are the lack of homegrown talent. Ali Jaber, the Lebanese TV exec who founded Future TV, one of the region’s most successful stations, has been placed in charge of rebuilding Dubai’s TV channels by Maktoum.
He says, “While Dubai has the facilities, it still doesn’t have the people to achieve its full potential. But this gap will eventually be bridged. I’m a positive thinker.”