The people at Dubai’s media free zones don’t believe in waiting around — they believe in creating future needs right now.
If it means creating a 50,000 square feet soundstage (the biggest such in the region), that’s already done. If it’s state-of-the-art post-production facilities, those have been signed off on those. But what’s with the current streak of creativity on Media City’s part?
“The film or production industry has evolved over a 100 years — what we’re trying to do is cram all of that into achieving scale for Dubai in the next few years,” said Majed Al Suwaidi, Managing Director at Dubai Media City, who also oversees the full-on development at Dubai Production City (formerly IMPZ) and Studio City.
For instance, the value of Dubai is very clear when it comes to logistics. But when you say Dubai for film, production and all of that, it’s unclear … because it’s not something conventional.
“So, now we tend to build into the unconventional areas that we have. You have a lot of people who would love to produce in Dubai. We found a lot of complementary services that people use Dubai for even if they produce somewhere else. Or they film somewhere else but they have to come to Dubai to film another part.
“It takes time for people to start understanding the value of Dubai for this industry specifically. But no one will want to come in for what was good 12-18 months ago. The industry is evolving and so should we.”
That explains the free zone’s direct investments in the soundstage and pre- and post-production facilities. Create that value proposition and with the support of allied factors — the sun, the lifestyle, the 24X7 connectivity — Dubai can pull in more of the new-gen media industry and all its professionals.
It was a thinking that worked when the original Media City was launched in the late 1990s. According to Suwaidi, the current strategy is a tweak on the original concept.
He offers up the example of the changes happening at Production City. “Earlier, we were focused on the publishing industries. But that industry is changing and unlike before, is not growing as it is.
“So, a lot of these publishing companies are starting to grow out to new fields. They are trying to pivot and use their skill sets into other things. On packaging for instance, light industries, light development — all of these things are actually happening on the ground at the moment.
“This evolution that is happening there is giving all these people who use the same equipment and same infrastructure to get into the new fields.”
But do government entities need to come up with a 50,000 square feet soundstage? Wouldn’t those sort of need best be met by private entities directly in the business?
“Look, I come from a non-film industry … but when I go to the soundstage, it is amazing,” said Suwaidi. “You get into that space, and you want everyone to go “Wow!”.
“Sure, the investments are heavy. But if you’re serious about development within an industry, you will have to invest in. We believe that this industry will grow … and keep on growing.
“Earlier you would see only films — now you see TV shows and smaller clips. How many times do you go to the movies now and sit in for one-and-a-half hours to two hours. Now, you sit down at home and see a series of TV shows.
“The industry evolution is happening and we are here to support.”
Suwaidi will not let on whether that could even mean that Media City could even take an investment dip into full-fledged production.
“We can say that we would like to invest in movie production. It’s all an investment, and at the end of the day we are an investment company. The question is this now or in the future?
“We keep this option always open. But investing into infrastructure is more valuable to me because instead of two productions happening in Dubai or in Studio City, this will pull in 20 productions.
“Also, we are partners with a lot of people who are into production — the Dubai International Film Festival, Film Commission. All these platforms are part of a huge ecosystem being developed within this industry.”
Still lots to get done in at the original site
The original cluster making up Dubai tech and media free zones is not done with creating new spaces within it. Currently, about 1.5 million square feet of space that is being developed across Tecom, which includes Dubai Internet City and Knowledge Village apart from Media City.
“About when will it finish, it’s not going to all at once — we’re spreading it out,” said Majed Al Suwaidi. “We have one huge innovation project coming up within Tecom that has three phases. Then we have other smaller pockets of development buildings that will be coming up. They are in the process of being built now.”