x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Digital media on fast track as Bill Gates takes stage

Technology billionaire Bill Gates is set to address this week's Abu Dhabi Media Summit, as the digital sector in the Middle East booms.

Bill Gates (right) with Sheikh Sultan bin Tahnoon Al Nahyan Chairman of Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority, on an earlier visit to City. Philip Cheung / Abu Dhabi Media Company
Bill Gates (right) with Sheikh Sultan bin Tahnoon Al Nahyan Chairman of Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority, on an earlier visit to City. Philip Cheung / Abu Dhabi Media Company

With the technology billionaire Bill Gates set to take the stage at this week's Abu Dhabi Media Summit, executives say the Middle East's digital industry is booming.

The Microsoft co-founder and philanthropist is scheduled to give the keynote presentation at the summit, which this year focuses on digital media and the emerging markets.

While digital media got off to a relatively slow start in the Arab world, spending in the sector is now growing rapidly, say experts.

Online advertising - one of the key drivers of the digital industry - is set to exceed US$300 million (Dh1.1 billion) next year, say executives.

Isam Bayazidi, the chief executive of the Middle East online advertising network ikoo, estimates that the region's online advertising industry was worth about $160m last year.

"My estimate is that it [will grow to] around $200m to $220m in 2012. It will be at around $300m next year," he said.

The Arab Media Outlook, which was published in April in collaboration with the Dubai Press Club and Deloitte, has even more bullish forecasts.

The report says digital advertising will be worth $295m this year, rising to $412m next year.

However, digital media still accounts for a small proportion of the overall advertising market.

Last year, online media attracted just 4 per cent of the Arab world's total advertising spending of about $4.7 billion. That compares with a 32 per cent share of the market in the United Kingdom, according to the Arab Media Outlook.

Yet strong growth is expected in the Arab world's digital industry, says Mr Bayazidi. He attributes this to the rise of online video consumption, and more people using tablets such as the iPad.

There are similarly rosy forecasts for the growth of digital advertising on mobile phones.

In the Middle East and Africa, spending on mobile advertising is forecast to be worth just $3.1m this year, according to figures from eMarketer.

This number is expected to rise to $13.8m by 2016 - although some expect that figure to be higher still.

Naveen Tewari, the founder of the global mobile-advertising network InMobi, agrees that spending on mobile advertising is now worth about $3m in theregion. But he says it is set to grow exponentially.

"We expect the ramp-up to be far faster," he said. "By 2016, I would say it would be three to four times what eMarketer is predicting... anywhere between $35m and $50m [in] the Middle East and Africa."

I"The usage of mobile phones in some of these markets is phenomenally high," said Mr Tewari, who is to appear at the Abu Dhabi Media Summit on Wednesday.

"It's still early days for the market. It's still not at a level of some of the other markets. But it's starting to show early signs of growth."

High flyers, puppet masters and Islamic superheroes

Executives from Twitter, YouTube and the company behind Sesame Street are set to gather in Abu Dhabi to discuss the new generation of media consumers.

More than 400 media professionals are expected at the Abu Dhabi Media Summit 2012, which starts on Tuesday. The theme of the summit is “redefining the digital frontier”, with a focus on the rise of online consumption of media in emerging markets.

Delegates represent a broad spectrum of the industry – from executives at some of the largest media companies in the United States and India, to prominent entrepreneurs from the Arab world.

Bill Gates is set to give the keynote address at the three-day summit, which is organised and managed by the twofour54 media zone. Here are some highlights of the invitation-only event, being held at the Yas Viceroy Hotel in Abu Dhabi.


Khaldoon Khalifa Al Mubarak, the chairman of the Abu Dhabi Media Summit and chief executive of Mubadala Development, is to give the welcoming address.

Bill Gates, the co-chairman of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, gives the keynote speech: “Global development – the next road ahead”.


“The war for the living room” will take place before lunch. The panel on the rise of internet video and its impact on traditional TV viewing will be debated by Robert Kyncl, the global head of content at YouTube, and Uday Shankar, chief executive of Star India.

Melvin Ming, the president and chief executive at Sesame Workshop, the non-profit educational organisation behind the Sesame Street television show, will address the topic “Education is too important to leave to teachers”.

“Generation tweet?” is the title of one session later in the afternoon, discussed by Princess Rym Ali of Jordan, and Alec Ross, the senior adviser for innovation at the US department of state.


Entrepreneurs from the Arab world take to the stage on the last day of the summit. The opening keynote panel of the day includes Fadi Ghandour, the founder of the courier firm Aramex, and May Habib, the founder of the Qordoba translation service.

Expect a social media buzz around the roundtable discussion entitled “Everyone’s talking”. The panel includes Kaveh Gharib, a localisation project manager at Twitter, and Burt Herman, a co-founder at Storify.

Later on Thursday, “Lessons from the front lines” will be offered by those who have been there. Naif Al Mutawa, the Kuwaiti creator behind The 99, a comic book featuring superheroes based on Islamic culture, will take to the stage with the internet pioneer Ihsan Jawad.