x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

New studios put region in the picture

Twofour54, Abu Dhabi's media zone, launched the region's first fully high-definition production studio facilities yesterday and announced plans to offer freelance visas by the end of next month.

Tony Orsten, the chief executive of twofour54, says its studios will offer state-of-the-art production and post-production facilities, media asset management, digital archiving, playout and broadcast services.
Tony Orsten, the chief executive of twofour54, says its studios will offer state-of-the-art production and post-production facilities, media asset management, digital archiving, playout and broadcast services.

Twofour54, Abu Dhabi's media zone, launched the region's first fully high-definition production studio facilities yesterday and announced plans to offer freelance visas by the end of next month. The studios, called twofour54 intaj, offer production and post-production facilities, media asset management, digital archiving, playout and broadcast services in both the zone's temporary headquarters near Khalifa Park and within the campus of Abu Dhabi Media Company, one of the zone's founding partners and the publisher of The National.

"The essence of what we are doing here is to underpin the content creation industry," said Tony Orsten, the chief executive of twofour54. "We are trying to build a community." The studios are the fourth and final division of the media zone to come online since it launched last October with a list of 12 media partners which includes CNN, BBC, Thomson Reuters, HarperCollins and Financial Times. By the end of the year the zone will have 60 media partners, Mr Orsten said, including Al Hilal, the Bahraini publisher of Gulf Daily News and Akhbar Al Khaleej, which announced plans to join the media zone on Friday.

In addition to five high-definition production studios, twofour54 intaj includes 22 post-production suites including audio, video, graphics and high-end finishing. It also provides media asset management and full broadcast services including playout, satellite uplink and downlink. The studios are equipped to support production in a range of fields including news, sport, game shows, serial drama and light entertainment. Each studio has its own dedicated support services with the largest studios boasting "elephant doors" which allow full drive-in access to cater for large-scale productions.

The facilities are "certainly the most technologically advanced in the region", said Wayne Borg, the chief operating officer at twofour54. Clients can either rent only the equipment and studios or do so using some or all of the 70 hired technicians and other staff available. "In some cases, if media partners such as the CNNs of the world come to us to make a television programme, maybe we are going to invest in that programme and maybe part of that investment could be the use of our studios," Mr Orsten said.

"So in those situations there is going to be some give and take." When the zone rents the studios to non-partners, he added, "we will be taking very great care of the people who come here". Hasan Sayed Hasan, the head of twofour54 intaj, said the prices would be competitive. "We are higher-end in some areas and that will be reflected on our rate card, but in general our rates are based on the market," he said.

In addition to investing heavily in state-of-the-art technology, media zone officials have been working to set up the legal framework for an affordable freelance visa programme. They will announce the details of the scheme in the next few weeks. In the first phase, sound and video editors, camera operators, production engineers, special-effects technicians and hair and make-up artists will be able to licence themselves directly with twofour54 as freelancers.

They will receive residence visas and be able to work for twofour54 intaj or any of the media zone's partners including CNN, Abu Dhabi TV, Baynounah TV, Atlas Television and C-Sky Pictures. Further categories will be introduced next year. Currently, freelance visas are available only through Dubai Media City, which charges Dh24,500 (US$6,670) per year. "Freelancers are an absolutely vital part of the infrastructure of any media industry," Mr Orsten said.

"Traditionally, it's not really been easy to do that sort of thing here. It is done but it's not straightforward. So we're going to do that and that's absolutely vital." khagey@thenational.ae