A city that never sleeps

When Dubai Media City opened its doors in 2001 its mission was to give businesses the ‘freedom to create’. Richard Abbott looks at what has been achieved in just four years

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By  Richard Abbott Published  September 11, 2005

A city that never sleeps|~|Dubai-Media-City200.jpg|~|On the up ... Dubai Media City |~|They don’t do things by halves in Dubai. When the government wanted to create a world-class facility for the local media industry, it created a city from the desert sands. Since it opened in 2001, Dubai Media City (DMC to its inhabitants) has become home to almost 1000 businesses. Tenants range from global giants like CNN to fledgling outfits with just a handful of employees. Every ingredient of the media mix is there, from TV broadcasters and magazine publishers to advertising agencies and digital marketers. It has transformed the media scene in the UAE, which was previously dominated by a few government-controlled operators, and injected an enterprising, entrepreneurial spirit. And it can claim to be the hub for media activity in the Middle East. “Before DMC was established there wasn’t really a media industry,” says Dr Amina al Rustamani, executive director of media for the Dubai Technology and Media Free Zone, which operates DMC. “The mission was to attract big media companies to establish their bases here. The idea was to attract talent by offering them the right package. The best people have now come back.” Sitting alongside Dubai Internet City (DIC) and the learning hub Knowledge Village, DMC is part of a free zone that enables it to offer businesses a package of tax exemption and 100% ownership. Television broadcaster MBC, for example, saw the benefits early on and re-located its offices from London. Arriving at DMC nowadays can be confusing for the first-time visitor. Buildings are numbered but are also known by the name of their lead tenant — the CNN building; the Leo Burnett building. The DIC building numbers are signposted alongside those for DMC and then there are the villa-style boutique offices, complete with their own landscaped gardens, and the loft apartments. By anyone’s standards the growth rate has been astonishing. Next on the agenda is the film-makers’ paradise of Dubai Studio City (see box below right) and the publishing and printing oriented Dubai Media Production Zone, near Jebel Ali. All of this is changing the geography of urban Dubai. New residential districts near DMC, like The Springs and The Greens, have filled up rapidly with DMC workers and their families. Hotels along the coast, like the Mina Seyahi and Royal Mirage, have found a new revenue stream as watering holes for thirsty workers, while DMC will get its first on-campus hotel later this year, with a Radisson SAS set to open in December. “There is an unmistakable pull towards this end of town,” says Michael Walters, managing director of True Integrated Marketing, who has worked in DMC on and off for the last three years. “There is a laid-back vibe here, a kind of café culture.” Louay Al-Samarrai, managing director of Active PR, says: “We find it is a very cool place to work. It has a good campus feel. We have found it enormously rewarding.” Another fan is David Baker, managing director of PR outfit Four Middle East. “I think there is a real buzz about it. It is certainly a focal point.” Al Rustamani, as you would expect, is delighted with the way the community vibe has developed: “When people come here for the first time they feel like they are in a media city. A lot of people move here because they can feel the hype.” And that community feel is crucial to the success of DMC. With all of the component parts of the media business in one area, companies could feasibly go through life only doing business with fellow DMC firms. Which is exactly the intention. “There is an entrepreneurial spirit here that encourages media start-ups. It makes sense to outsource some functions and all of the business partners are here,” says Mohammed Al Mulla, the recently appointed director of Dubai Media City. “I make it irresistible for companies to come here. It becomes very difficult for people to compete with me.” As Mohammed Abdelmonem, corporate communications manager for the Dubai Technolology and Media Free Zone, so eloquently spins it: “Every company is providing its service to another. It’s a win-win situation.” The logistics make sense. Any sales director from central Dubai who has to endure the traffic of Sheikh Zayed Road twice a day to see their agency contacts at DMC will soon be pleading with their CEO to relocate. Nicolas Chidiac, an account executive at Leo Burnett, sums it up. “It is very practical. The media company that I work with is just around the corner. You can walk anywhere you want. You can even sit around the lake when the weather is cooler.” Luke McGreevy, regional director of Financial Times Business, is one of many professionals working solo within DMC. He has been working there for about a year as the sole representative of the financial newspaper’s magazines arm in Dubai. “I like to be in the middle of it all, so I choose to be in an open office. And all of the media agencies are around me, which is vital,” he says. Al-Samarrai has seen genuine business benefits from being at DMC. “We get a flood of new business leads that come in from partners and colleagues within the campus,” he says. “When people search for a new PR agency they go to DMC first as a starting point. We have had contact from the US, Canada, Europe. “That has been a big benefit for us. When the rents went up, we evaluated it but found in favour of staying here.” Baker is less sure about the benefits of being in a media community. “I’m not sure there’s as much sharing of ideas as the owners would like there to be,” he says. The concept of DMC is hard to resist for media firms, especially as the critical mass continues to grow. Al-Samarrai sounds one note of caution though, arguing that it has become almost too easy for businesses to start up. “It helps you get out there if you think you have a good offer, but maybe some people have had that thought when they shouldn’t have,” he says. “There are a few fly-by-night people here trying to make a quick buck.” He is referring to magazines, for instance, that appear and disappear within a couple of months, just one or two issues into their lives. Car parking crops up all the time as ||**||A city that never sleeps|~|Al-Rustamani,-Dr200.jpg|~|‘Before DMC was established there wasn’t really a media industry’ Dr Amina al Rustamani, executive director of media for the Dubai Technology and Media Free Zone|~|an issue and is accepted by Al Mulla. “I used to wonder why so many parking spaces had been built. Nowadays there is nowhere to park,” he says. McGreevy agrees that parking can be a “nightmare”. He has also been frustrated by the work on the approach to the new Palm Jumeirah, which slows traffic at peak periods. Walters adds: “It has gone back to being like a work in progress.” Despite the criticisms, there is an irresistible drive about DMC and it is also making money for its operators; through office lease, operating permits, visas and medical checks. Like the nearby five-star hotels, it provides a ‘one-stop shop’ for the user. Baker highlights the ease in which companies can set up, free of much of the red tape associated with the region. Al Mulla says: “There is a bad perception about this part of the world, so we make it very affordable to attract new business. Start-up costs are about US$8000 a year so you can try this part of the world.” But has DMC delivered on its promise of ‘freedom of expression’? “Having 900 plus companies is not good enough?” says Al Rustamani. “It proves that we are creating this freedom. This is very important. So we devised our own code of guidance for freedom of media companies.” The official line is that DMC companies must work within the country’s rules on press freedom — which include clauses about not criticising the government, among others. The exact application of the rules remains vague but the recent suspension of men’s magazine FO! Focus On for apparently not sticking to its business plan shows that there is a line. And if you cross that line the repercussions can be severe (in this case the magazine’s licence was revoked.) Full freedom for the press may take some time but this is clearly not affecting the growth of the complex. “With new ways of delivering content to the consumer we will have to have new rules and regulations,” says Al Rustamani. Her thoughts are now turning to Studio City and the Production Zone as DMC spreads its wings. Like so much of Dubai, it makes you wonder if DMC will ever be a finished article. With the Middle East economy growing so fast, there will be more demand for office space — and DMC will have to grow to keep pace. This particular city is turning into a sprawling metropolis.||**||

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