Shihab Al Hammadi, Director, Sharjah Media City

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Shihab Al Hammadi, Director, Sharjah Media City, on launching the next stage of the local media industry

What are the key target segments for investment in media and the creative industries?

AL HAMMADI: Conventional media – television, radio and newspapers – are being transformed by technology, as audiences can now access, receive and consume all content digitally, regardless of where it is produced. Media companies no longer require an established, permanent physical base; rather, they have to focus on producing content suitable for their target audiences. 

We are working to develop a platform for local media services called “platform for platforms”. This concept would provide a portal for companies looking for particular services, allowing businesses to operate, collaborate and sell their services or products to other firms on the platform. It could also be accessed by external companies that want to see what media services Sharjah offers, and would include more information about the practicalities of producing content locally, including physical locations and talent banks.

These services would encourage the localisation of content production by offering logistical support, and it will target more specialised products including dubbing, subtitling and translation for films and television. As collaboration between providers is an important aspect of the contemporary media industry, we are looking to provide a physical and virtual community. 

As many graduates from local universities want to enter a media market that is already highly saturated, Sharjah can tap this talent pool and encourage them to open their own start-ups focusing on areas such as film production and screenwriting. Initiatives to encourage training and workshops will also help develop and nurture this talent to promote the next phase of innovation in local media. 

How can Sharjah strengthen its physical infrastructure and streamline service delivery for businesses operating in free zones?

AL HAMMADI: Free zones must think strategically and consider the specific requirements of the businesses they target. They benefit from several advantages, including tailored licences and the speed of registering a new business. For the creative industries it is important to provide flexibility and develop digital infrastructure. Due to a focus on producing digital content, media companies are highly mobile and require flexibility in facilities and locations. 

We realised there was strong demand for a residential component in Sharjah Media City, also known as Shams, that would allow companies and media professionals to work from home when necessary. We have incorporated this into our designs, particularly in terms of the retail and leisure facilities – including hotel accommodation – offered in the development. 

In order to build on this flexibility, we will also offer a dual model of shared office space and an online presence to allow businesses to work remotely. There is a move, however, from physical to digital infrastructure. As the digital requirements of companies are changing in terms of hardware, free zones must be aware of future trends and how this may change the needs of companies. For example, we have invested in providing infrastructure to support services including content storage and online streaming. 

What impact will new technologies and services have on the future of creative industries?

AL HAMMADI: The global media industry is being transformed by new technology with a shift to digital platforms such as cloud services, video streaming and video on demand. Traditional channels, including television stations, radio and print newspapers, are facing more challenging conditions, lower audiences and pressure to deliver content digitally. 

As companies adapt to this, their hardware and infrastructure requirements are changing. The equipment needed to run services, like television stations, is now minimal and many larger established companies are downsizing to reduce costs, while start-up overheads for new entrants are lower. Newer developments, including streaming services and faster internet bandwidth, have left older business models largely obsolete and uncompetitive. 

However, this presents opportunities for the sector, as there is a convergence between conventional media, social media and digital platforms. As the digital shift removes the physical barriers to collaboration, media companies can access services, products and audiences outside of their home markets.

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