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Wed 28 Jul 2010 04:00 AM

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Set to peak

Fujairah Media is not the largest network in the region but the company's diverse range of activities from broadcasting to operating a freezone and now to operating cinemas, has the firm on the track toward profitability. CEO Mekki Abdulla spoke to John Parnell.

Set to peak
Set to peak
Fujairah Media will open the region’s first drive-in cinema in the emirate later this year. The Arabian Cinema concept will also be expanded to two additional MENA markets in the future, reveals Abdulla.

Fujairah Media is not the largest network in the region but the company's diverse range of activities from broadcasting to operating a freezone and now to operating cinemas, has the firm on the track toward profitability. CEO Mekki Abdulla spoke to John Parnell.

In a media landscape dominated by a handful of monolithic networks it can be difficult for smaller players to get by. Nestled among these giant competitors and headquartered among the mountains of Fujairah, is the emirate's eponymous media group.

Fujairah Media has been able to survive the downturn - thanks in no small part to the timely opening of its Creative City cluster - and is now lining up a number of broadcasting and infrastructure projects to diversify its income and carve its own niche on the way to profitability.

The group is a joint venture between the Fujairah Culture and Media Authority (FCMA) and Arab International Media Services (AIMS), with the latter owning a 70 percent stake and the FCMA holding the remainder.

"It was formed in 2005 originally with the goal of launching radio and TV stations. AIMS provides a lot of the investment and handling the day-to-day management and FCMA offers infrastructure and licensing support," explains Mekki Abdulla, CEO, Fujairah Media.

"It evolved in 2007 and 2008 to include the Creative City free zone, which is now one of our flagship businesses," says Abdulla.

The company owns two TV stations with another two set for launch and a fifth under discussion. Seven client TV stations also use the group's facilities.

"There is another channel - ABC TV - that we are doing in association with a company in America called ABC, which is going to be given its soft launch during Ramadan. It's a free-to-air TV channel with good quality programming, including a lot of western productions that have not been purchased in this market previously," claims Abdulla. "There tends to be four or five big players battling it out in the TV market here and to be honest they all run similar content. Frequently they are just showing different series of the same shows. Sometimes you don't know which channel you are watching until you look at the logo. You can't tell them apart. But they're doing well. The aim for ABC TV is to do a different style of programming. It will be something that takes you through your day. You don't want to see a horror movie at seven in the morning, so the content will change as the day progresses. There will be a bit more thought put into the programming."

Fujairah Media also operates four radio stations with more planned.

Abdulla says that it is crucial to address the Egyptian and Saudi Arabian markets in order to monetise TV content but admits that commercial goals are not the focus of all its channels.

"The group does not make money from television as yet and it doesn't expect to for a little bit longer. One of the channels that it operates, Dunia TV, is more of a window for Fujairah as opposed to something for the company to try to monetise. It is for people in Fujairah and for people from outside to learn more about the emirate. It has a very distinct purpose and this is also part of the overall strategy."

Dunia is one example but the group is also looking at more commercially driven TV ventures too.

"The group also has a channel - Zoal TV - that is focusing on Sudan that has strong commercial benefits in my opinion. There has been a lot of interest from people looking to purchase it now that it has some strong audience figures to back it up. There is an opportunity for us to develop stations using our infrastructure and addressing certain niche markets. These can then be sold on or run internally. There has been a good reaction from the market to Zoal TV, the audience is in place, advertising is being sold. There is money to be made if you have a plan," claims Abdulla.

"We're not going to limit the business to Fujairah, but we're not going to try and battle it out with Dubai. Dubai is already very good at what it does. Our main market at the moment outside of Fujairah is going to be Africa. There are lots of plans to use the platform here to help develop electronic media in Africa. The company is working very closely with marketing people to see how this can subsidised by commercial operations."

The company is now identifying sectors that would be interested in accessing audiences in Africa and identifying where these audiences might be geogrpahically and bringing the two together.
Recently, the once unstoppable launches of FTA channels in the region has begun to slow. Abdulla believes this is ultimately a good thing for the industry that will reward the channels - like Zoal TV - that are underpinned by a sound strategy.

"There was a point when there was a lot of money around and the attitude was ‘oh I haven't got a TV station so I'll open one'. It was very easy to start a TV channel and there were people happy to take the money to set these up.

"It's a good thing that there was a cull in some form just to keep the numbers down, to make the market sensible and ensure that TV is of interest to people as a marketing tool. The medium has done extremely well during the downturn - electronic media as a whole has excelled itself quite well. I don't see there being a sudden upsurge. Any TV channels launched now will do so with a business plan and clear objectives," states Abdulla.

"Television - if you want to do it properly - is extremely expensive. Content is key but content is also costly if it is original and high quality. It's a hard game and I think we will see some more stations close. We'll also see some new ones come about with a distinct plan and longevity as opposed to more channels blending away into the hundreds of others."

Content production is another area that the group is now turning its attentions to.

This month it hopes to launch the Fujairah Film Commission (FFC), which will promote the emirate as a filming location and ensure that the correct facilities are in place to support productions.

The FFC is working on a set of incentives and liabilities with the Fujairah municipality and is also planning to construct a new 3000 sq/m studio facility to support TV and film projects.

The mainstay of the group remains its management and operation of Creative City, the media freezone in the emirate.

"Creative City invites media companies with backgrounds in technology, marketing, advertising and consulting to open up there. It is very keen on start-ups and they are offered a lot of support. Most of the 250 companies registered there are either start-ups or smaller business. The majority of the companies have between two and ten employees," says Abdulla.

There is also an uplink facility for broadcast clients, TV and radio studio infrastructure and cable connectivity throughout the region and to the US in cooperation with Kuwait's Gulfsat.

"At the turn of the year we are hoping to build some more facilities based on the business park concept. These will be simpler spaces. This means partners don't need to tie themselves to complex infrastructure if they don't need it. Or, in the opposite case they can have an as elaborate set-up as they require. They will also be offered flexible rent and leasing terms to provide some investment protection for them."

With a number of competing media freezones in the Middle East, Creative City is by no means the largest, but this is not necessarily a disadvantage, according to Abdulla.

"At the end of the day one of the key differentiators between our offering and other freezones in the region is that we are a lot smaller and our aspirations are less than some of the big players.

"It does not try to compete with the major freezones, it has found its own niche in a way and tries to offer very personal relationships. It doesn't loom over its partners like Big Brother. The aim is to develop an environment so people can turnaround their companies quickly and get their business running efficiently."

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