x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 22 July 2017

Hollywood stars? I prefer a media summit any day

Forget perfect smiles and rock-solid abs. Give this writer some tough talk about protecting the words she creates.

The folks at the Laureus World Sports Awards might have assumed that by persuading the likes of Hugh Grant and Gwyneth Paltrow to show up to the Emirates Palace, they had the upper hand in Abu Dhabi's swoon quotient. But for me, the main attraction turned out to be across the emirate on Yas Island in the form of an average-sized man wearing a blue suit, his brown eyes slightly bulging from behind wire-rimmed glasses.

"There is no difference with going into a store and stealing Pringles or a handbag and taking this stuff," said James Murdoch, the chairman and chief executive of News Corporation's European and Asian operations and heir apparent to his father's media conglomerate. "There should be the same level of property rights whether it's a house or a movie." Forget perfect smiles and rock-solid abs. Give this writer some tough talk about protecting the words she creates - not to mention her livelihood - any day.

"Content is no different," he added, with the kind of hang-'em-at-high-noon swagger that makes me homesick for Texas. "They're not crazy kids. No. Punish them." To misquote Bonnie Tyler, journalists need a hero. And, there, at the Abu Dhabi Media Summit, they were. After years of being told by ruthless bosses that our service is as easily replaced as that of a line worker in Detroit, my heart beat faster listening to Mr Murdoch's call to arms. "We need enforcement mechanisms and we need governments to play ball."

For two and a half days, 400 delegates roamed the halls of Yas Hotel, their panel discussions punctuated by the roar of race car engines. Top bosses and their minions from some of the world's most recognisable media and technology companies gathered to assess the state of their industries and explore business ties that could bring them closer together. For Abu Dhabi, the inaugural summit was designed to put the emirate on the map. And many attendees said it had succeeded.

Ernest Wilson, the dean of the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Southern California and the chairman of the board of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, flew in from New York. "It helped me understand the needs of the region, and what I can do in partnerships that I have here to contribute to the region," he told my colleague Keach Hagey on the summit's final day.

Tony Orsten, chief executive of the Abu Dhabi Media Zone twofour54, told Hagey that he had "met dozens of people who had considered coming to the Middle East, but weren't sure". By the end of the conference, however, Mr Orsten enthused that the participants saw Abu Dhabi as "a place that they could be involved in". "I think this has really put us on the map, and allowed us to speak with more of a global voice, as well as a regional one," he added.

Over the course of the summit, we heard that Eric Schmidt, the chief executive of Google, had a "cordial" visit from Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi. We saw Rupert Murdoch hold court in a corner of a restaurant on the first night of the conference. It wasn't all schmoozing, though. The summit did result in a few deals getting done too. Even before the first plenary began, there was the announcement that News Corporation had partnered with twofour54 to make the capital a central location in the company's bid to expand throughout the Middle East.

Fox International Channels, a subsidiary of News Corp, is making Abu Dhabi its regional hub for online advertising sales, documentary production and satellite television broadcasting. And, on the last day, Mubadala Development, the strategic investment arm of the Abu Dhabi Government, agreed to buy a 9 per cent stake in The Raine Group, an investment bank specialising in media, entertainment and sport.

This connects our part of the world to Ari Emanuel, who inspired the agent on the HBO series Entourage and is brother of Rahm, the US White House chief of staff. Ari worked at several Hollywood talent agencies before founding Endeavor Talent Agency. After its merger with William Morris, he became the chief executive of WME Entertainment, which represents more than 1,000 clients including Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, Justin Timberlake and Sacha Baron Cohen.

Meanwhile, Google executives were said to be meeting with their counterparts at America Online and News Corporation to renegotiate online search deals. The chairman of Asustek Computer, Jonney Shih, told David George-Cosh, our telecoms reporter, that he had met the AMD chief executive Dirk Meyer to talk about how the two companies could build faster and more powerful computers together. "It was good experience to see how the media side works," Mr Shih said. "We're becoming very interconnected because of the move to cloud computing."

The summit also had a bit of celebrity, if not exactly the A-list. Your humble trio of correspondents managed to sneak into the closing night party being hosted by Twentieth Century Fox. (Shah Rukh Khan only made an appearance via the screen, sadly.) And we did run into Shane McMahon, the scion of the World Wrestling Entertainment's chief executive Vince McMahon, as he wandered Yas Hotel's halls, looking to meet decision-makers to help him develop several new media ventures.

What was he doing there? "You have to go where the money is," he said. @Email:ashah@thenational.ae