You play so many different roles within the media. How do you juggle all of them and do they complement each other? Noura: They are all interlinked. So for example, as a member of the Federal National Council, one chooses to be under one or two committees. I have selected to be under the committees […]
You play so many different roles within the media. How do you juggle all of them and do they complement each other?
Noura: They are all interlinked. So for example, as a member of the Federal National Council, one chooses to be under one or two committees. I have selected to be under the committees of Media and Culture, and Sports. I am also CEO of twofour54, and on the boards of Abu Dhabi Media Company, Image Nation and Flash Entertainment. They are all part of how the Government of Abu Dhabi is diversifying the economy through more than one activity.
While they each operate individually to develop different parts of the chain, they also help each other to grow the overall culture. This is what twofour54 is trying to do and this is what other media companies should also do, whether it is Image Nation, Flash or Abu Dhabi Media Company.
There is an assumption that all of these entities were hugely funded by Abu Dhabi government and you are now taking measures to make them commercially profitable. Does that explain the job cuts in the last year?
There is an assumption that the Government of Abu Dhabi is paying a huge amount of money to operate or to attract media entities. It is an assumption and we are trying to change such assumptions. Its important for any business to break even. You need to focus on your numbers. You need to see what matters and what will be sustainable. I think it is important for us to focus on how we are treating a state-owned company such as twofour54. It is not about relying on a fund but making sure that you are utilising it smartly.
As an Emirati, you said you want to encourage more Emiratis to join the media business. But there is an assumption that most of them are unwilling to take up entry level jobs. How are you addressing this?
I have been working with twofour54 since the day it started. Tony Orsten (then CEO of twofour54) was my mentor and he did a great job.
Right now in twofour54, we have many Emiratis who have started working in a range of positions and they are beginning to understand what it takes to pursue a career in the media.
As part of our ongoing efforts, we want to build a sustainable media industry and this is not easy especially in this region. One of our key aims in twofour54 is to reach out to young Arabs, particularly to Emiratis, and to encourage them to consider the media as a long-term career choice.
This has also been achieved through our academic outreach as well as entrepreneurship programmes that have been run very successfully. Our Entaji programme, for instance, is an employment and traineeship programme developed specially for UAE nationals in collaboration with the BBC. It is for those who are interested in building a career in television production and broadcasting.
We initiated this programme because we dont see many Emiratis in production and post production work. This is a 12-month programme.
In 2011, when we had the graduation, all of them were working within our production facility at twofour54. We had seven Emiratis. Right now, we have five Emiratis and recently, one of them also won the Arab Film Studio Competition.
This process is not limited to young Emiratis but their families as well. We have to sell it to their families first if they are to join this career.
For example, many families are sceptical about the role of their children in the media. After their kids were trained here, we saw them alter their decisions and some wanted to send their kids to major in a certain area of the media. Some would call us and ask about potential internship or job opportunities.
So I think it is a matter of changing certain cultural perceptions and we have to start with the youth. During this outreach programme, we went out to 24 colleges and universities within the UAE. It was like a road show campaign and we reached out to around 5000 students about the different career opportunities within the media industry.
You undertook some changes at twofour54 as part of your efforts to make the entity more profitable. Is there more in the pipeline?
Changes happen. Our focus is mainly on Arab youth and funding short films and music through our creative lab. Engaging the youth is our number one priority.
They may or may not eventually become part of the media industry but we are attempting to create that culture. I believe every entity within the UAE has a responsibility to the youth of this nation. The moment you provide them with a certain type of education and equip them with skills, you know that you are creating a healthy culture. The rest will follow.
So it is more about undertaking changes at a fundamental level. We are looking at more focused changes in the future with hopefully, a clear message at the same time.
What is your vision moving forward?
In five years, I see us having more services or opportunities that are not available elsewhere, such as niche training. Right now, we have gaming and Cartoon Network. We will be looking at what the market requires. I also see all of the entities within the UAE focusing more on local content production rather than importing it from elsewhere. We need to look beyond the UAE to the entire GCC for further collaborations as the UAE by itself is not such a big market. To make our product successful, we have to ensure it is not just a UAE product but something that is applicable to everyone in the GCC to watch. This is how I see twofour54 growing in the future having services and products that are relevant to a larger market.
How long has it been since you became a part of the FNC? How has your own perspective changed since joining the FNC?
It will be a year this November. When you get to the Parliament level, by default, we have to see the bigger picture. It has widened the way I look at things and the way we solve issues. There are so many different dimensions the educational dimension, the cultural dimension, the policy dimension and so on. With regards to media policies and regulations, we are trying to work more closely with the National Media Council to develop some regulations and services.
You are very active on the social media front and we love it. Is that a personal initiative or part of your mandate as an FNC member?
I joined twitter in 2008 when we launched twofour54. For me, being part of new trends has always been a personal passion. It wasnt with the aim of promoting twofour54. It was just about me wanting to be there. I use it for both work and also for some points of view that I would like to share. Four or five months back, the FNC did provide us with official twitter accounts. I am already using it for the vision of the Federal National Council and I do get messages on twitter. Our official emails are available online so you can access our Federal National Council email and get back to us. It was a personal passion from the beginning. But right now, I think it is both passion and responsibility.
What challenges do you foresee for yourself in the coming months?
We have to make sure that this year is successful for twofour54. It is my first year as CEO of the company. We are working very closely together as a management team. We are making sure we are updated with the numbers, monitoring our progress and how we treat each service within twofour54. It is also very important for us to get our message out there right.
October was a festive month for us with the Abu Dhabi Media Summit and the Abu Dhabi Film Festival, which we were handling for the first time. This was a challenge because both events were not previously part of twofour54 and do not have a commercial mandate like twofour54.
What challenges do you foresee for nationals looking to work in TV, films or the radio business?
The challenges are many. Twofour54 provides young UAE nationals with funds to produce their short films or develop their games or media-related projects. Thats a one-time effort. But whats next? We need to have ongoing activities to ensure that the stimulus is continuous. Other media entities must also be involved in these initiatives.
Essentially, they should be trained, should be able to find jobs, and participate consistently in cultural events and activities that will foster their creativity. That is the environment we are trying to create. More entities must be involved to make this work. This is what I try to do with Abu Dhabi Media Company, for instance. I tell them to use our freelancers and our graduates. We have talent so why not utilise them?
Another interesting element is the opportunities we need to provide continuously to our people to ensure they are being trained all the time. When they were shooting a part of The Bourne Legacy in Dubai, we got all of our students to the film set. They didnt know that they are going there, but they came back wanting to do more. The advantage of having one central entity controlling all of this is that our students then have access to such projects. But we cannot do it alone. We need more support from other partners.
Are you working towards creating those partnerships?
Yes, we are constantly working towards this goal. We are also working with some of our partners within twofour54 to ensure that they can use local talent.
This whole project is part of Abu Dhabis 2030 vision to be a media hub?
Yes, we complement the Abu Dhabi 2030 vision. We have been getting more support on how we link the media in twofour54 with other entities within Abu Dhabi. It is part of the government sector, so by default, there is already support from there.
How many companies have come on board in the last year?
During the second quarter of 2012, we have had 39 new partners on board. We have 178 companies in total at twofour54.
Now that the Abu Dhabi Film Commission does not have a Commissioner, will there be a new appointment soon?
Abu Dhabi Film Commission will continue to function and promote our locations and production facilities. What we are doing right now is refining the structure there. There will be a Commissioner, but that team will utilise all of the facilities that we have.
What is the biggest hurdle in this region?
Sustainability. We lack sustainability. How can we produce a product that generates more revenue and is sustainable? And at the same time, it is not just about the product but also how you develop a product, whether you have it in a digital form, or any merchandise around it. It needs to be a market that is not discovered, but empowered more.
Finally, does traditional TV have a future?
I dont think it will have as powerful a following as it did in the past. People are spending less time watching content on traditional screens and shifting to other devices. People want to watch TV at their convenience. I use my phone most of the time. More revenue can be generated if content can be shown across multiple platforms.