We recently came over to the UAE to attend the 2011 Abu Dhabi Media Summit.

Here’s what he had to say:

Abu Dhabi played host to a clutch of media and telecomms executives from around the world at its second annual media summit last week. It’s a sign of a rapidly developing media environment in the Middle East that James Murdoch, Tom Glocer from Thomson Reuters, Jean-Bernard Levy of Vivendi and Hollywood luminaries like director James Cameron and Jim Gianopulos, Chairman and CEO of Fox were there.

As Dan Sabbagh, one of the panel moderators and media commentator for The Guardian put it:

Emiratis with western-style disposable incomes go to the cinema three times a week, which shows the Arab appetite for storytelling in a familiar western context. Sovereign capital … is also chasing after media now, forming alliances with western groups or just forging ahead.

If the themes were familiar, they were convincingly argued and illustrated:

  • We are seeing huge growth in bandwidth and infrastructure which will allow mobile, cloud-based services to take off – including live streaming and rendering of video games in higher quality than from current consoles. Social Gaming will continue to grow strongly as a consequence. Cisco estimate by 2015 we will see 26 times the mobile data used now. Nikesh Arora of Google said we should see 15 billion connected wifi devices within 5 years.
  • As a result we are about to see an exponential rise in video on the web – with video described as key to customer retention. Jonathan Miller from NewsCorp said: “We are entering the age of video consumption”. (Btw he is behind the launch of the Murdoch iPad paper, The Daily which he said would be launched in Europe by June. Their metrics show The Daily attracts a younger audience who spend 4 times longer with it than on other News apps)
  • TV is about to change fundamentally as it too gets connected to the web, or the Cloud. This will herald the death of the schedule according to Google (which of course has been long predicted though it shows remarkable fortitude to date).
  • Nokia CEO Stephen Elop said we were moving from the battle of the devices to a war of ecosystems – hence their partnership with Microsoft in spite of their own Symbian system being successful. For Nokia the challenge was reaching the next billion people as much as refining their handsets. Content was key.
  • And on Content, Tom Glocer, Thomson Reuters, drew the contrast between news and the output of organisations like Demand Media. “Do you need an underlying event in reality to be reported – content following fact – or do you begin with a search query and create content around trends which may not reflect events in the real world?”
  • Reinventing the model for Content was discussed in a white paper on the future of publishing, from Consulting firm Booz. As senior partner Karim Sabbagh put it “The rapid social and economic development that regional economies are witnessing is creating ubiquitously connected communities with one of the strongest level of media consumption in the world.” Crucial, as ever, audience focus and deepening relationships, new revenue streams, and innovation.
  • There was a compelling demonstration of 3D for movies by James Cameron and animator Carlos Saldanha of the Ice Age films. As the Avatar director put it, “we went from silent to sound, black and white to colour, now 2D to 3D is the last step in making the movie experience closer to our natural senses.”

This leaves the Gulf as a rapidly developing market for media and telecomms, with its own dynamics and characteristics, rich in capital for investment and reaching out to the West. The question is which western companies are prepared to meet them half way.