‘Queen of media’ Noura al-Kaabi sees bigger numbers at twofour54

Twofour54 was launched in 2008 and is now home to many media companies such as CNN and the Cartoon Network

Ben Flanagan
Ben Flanagan - Al Arabiya News
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The head of Abu Dhabi’s media zone twofour54 plans to lure more companies to the UAE capital, as the center looks to become commercially viable ahead of an expected withdrawal of government subsidies.

Twofour54, which is named after its geographical coordinates, launched with great fanfare in 2008, and is home to media companies such as CNN, the Cartoon Network and HarperCollins.

Its chief executive Noura al-Kaabi says the media zone is now on track to expand to 240 partners by the end of the year.

“We are looking into getting more companies to be based in Abu Dhabi. It is part of the whole formula of getting twofour54 and media in Abu Dhabi to be working strategically together,” she said.

The media zone is currently funded by the Abu Dhabi Government. But al-Kaabi said twofour54 will have to stand on its own two feet commercially – although she did not give a timeline for this.

“The government is reducing my subsidy and asking us to think and behave commercially. It won’t continue being the government subsidizing and increasing the subsidy. Twofour54 should have a future of itself standing alone,” al-Kaabi said.

Al-Kaabi, who was recently described as the ‘Queen of Media’ by the prominent French magazine ‘Le Nouvel Observateur’, told Al Arabiya News about the trends to watch next year.

Q&A with Noura al-Kaabi, chief executive of Abu Dhabi’s media zone twofour54

Q. More than 230 media companies are now part of twofour54. Is that the optimum number or are you seeking to attract more?

Reaching more than 230 companies is an accomplishment. But is it the optimum number that we reached, and that’s it? Of course not. We are looking into expanding what we do most of the time.

Q. What is that target for the number of companies by the end of 2013?

It’s 240. And going forward, there will be more. We always try to look into the companies themselves, and how strategic they are… the job creation, how Abu Dhabi is utilizing the infrastructure and the talents that are available in twofour54.

Q. Has twofour54 been successful in its aim of boosting Arabic media content?

When you go around the country, and you want to watch a movie, you rarely watch a movie that is made by Arabs. It either has to be Egyptian or not Egyptian. We are a big region, with more than 350 million people speaking Arabic, and we end up watching only one Egyptian movie in a cinema. And that’s if you wanted to watch it. So what has changed? Nothing.

It’s basically not twofour54’s job to continue pushing for having the content. Twofour54’s job is to raise the bar of the production. When we fund short films, and when these films go to film festivals and get more than 100 awards, that means there is a chance that I’m getting those youth who speak Arabic, whether Emirati or not, to take it to the next level.

Q. What are the trends in the Gulf film industry?

The Arab film market has always been interesting, but it has been mostly a market that you see in festivals. You don’t see it out there. We have wonderful filmmakers, we have wonderful directors around the region. At the Abu Dhabi Film Festival we have great submissions of Emirati short films. But we’re still hungry to have feature films. And here it is important for us to get more scriptwriters, which is the key to storytelling.

Q. You announced in 2012 an incentive scheme for international filmmakers coming to Abu Dhabi, which promised a rebate on local spending of up to 30 per cent. How’s that going?

We have a list of applications and requests. The first one that utilized our 30 percent rebate is a company based in Saudi that filmed their commercial in Abu Dhabi. The second was a 30-episode Syrian drama; they filmed in Abu Dhabi in two of our studios, it looked like old Damascus. And right now they want to film more of the Syrian drama since they won’t be able to go back to Syria. And unfortunately, with what is happening in Syria, we are getting a lot of Syrian drama being filmed in twofour54. Also we have a post-production that is utilizing the rebate, again [it is a] Syrian drama.

We also got requests for international films. The ones that I can mention is the Sony Pictures and Jerry Bruckheimer [film] Beware the Night starring Eric Bana, which filmed in Abu Dhabi. It’s supposed to be in Iraq, so they used a farm and a studio. It was a successful three days’ shooting, day and night in the Western Region. Most of the crew was Abu Dhabi-based – and this was what was also saving them money [along with the rebate]. And then we have the Fast & Furious 7 which also will be filmed in Abu Dhabi… The movie premier will be in 2014; this is so far the biggest picture we are working on.

Q. And what about next year?

In 2014, Sesame Street will start producing in twofour54. This is a GCC show that stopped and now Abu Dhabi is reviving it. We’re looking into more kids’ content and how it could be done differently. Kids’ content has a science behind it, and it’s not just getting animation and dubbing it.

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