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Specialist Guide to the

Global Leaders in Media Law Practice

The global powerhouse that is Spotify open edits platform for local users in 2018 and has since been able to provide a large catalogue of Arabic music for local listeners alongside its usual Western catalogue. Spotify has, as with other territories, branched across into the expanding podcast market. Locally, smaller players are starting to appear in the podcast market - The Mstdfr Show and Thmanyah are just two of the locally created content platforms that are gathering large audiences.  

A study in 2019 showed that there were 1.3 million regular podcast listeners in the UAE, with 16% of the adult population tuning into podcasts at least once a week. We would expect current numbers to be significantly higher, particularly in a post-Covid world. Numbers from a similar study undertaken in April 2020 in Saudi Arabia show that podcasting has 5.1 million regular listeners, and 15% tune in at least once a week. This market is destined to expand, and rapidly.

Netflix opened local subscription in 2017/2018, with Amazon Prime following in 2019. Notwithstanding this, the first-to-market operator Starz Play remains the dominant OTT player in the region, and as of 2019, it held a 29% market share and an impressive 31% revenue share.  The expansion into Arabic language content as well as locally produced English language content is continuing for all OTT players.

A strong reaction to the emergence of these OTT players has come from two of the region’s largest television operators, OSN (from pay TV) and MBC (from FTA).

In March 2020, OSN signed exclusive rights for the distribution of Disney+ Originals across the Middle East. At the same time, it rebranded and relaunched its then-current streaming platform, which will now carry the same OSN branding as its main pay TV offering.  

MBC continues to be the domain player in free to air television.  It has relaunched its own digital platform, Shahid, with new content and a substantial budget for local production.  The combination of the Covid situation with Ramadan (already a prime time for viewing in the region) has given Shahid an audience boost for 2020 – it has reported a doubling of its audience from Ramadan 2019 to Ramadan 2020.  MBC also entered into a joint content venture with twofour54 and Image Nation to deliver local content, which is in its early days but beginning to see results.

The Abu Dhabi rebate of 30% on local spend, launched several years ago, appears to be having an impact. Production is stable (albeit that shoots were put on hold for health and safety reasons during the Covid lockdown).

The Abu Dhabi government has sustained two large media entities in twofour54 and Image Nation for a decade now. They have been working together on various initiatives and projects as well as projects on their own. Image Nation has re-commenced production of feature films in 2020, after a large push in 2018 saw three features being made in one year. One of those films, ‘Scales’, premiered at the prestigious Venice Film Festival in 2019.  

There is an increasing number of international film productions choosing the UAE for shoots, which is assisting in the growth of both the size and expertise of the production talent pool.  Foreign ad agencies still choose the UAE for advertising shoots, particularly for large regional brands, meaning that this lucrative area of production continues to provide a steady revenue stream for producers.

Gaming is an as yet untapped industry in the UAE and across the region.  According to local newspaper Gulf News: “The MENA gaming market is set to triple in size to USD4.4 billion by 2022, with gaming revenues in the GCC alone standing at USD1.05 billion in 2016”.  However, this revenue is captured largely by foreign based entities rather than local game development. The region is seeing growth in e-gaming tournaments and this appears likely to continue its growth in size and, importantly, revenue potential.

The music industry continues with little change outside of live music events which are getting a significant boost from the changes in the neighbouring market in Saudi. The UAE continues to operate without music collection societies, making operations difficult for music users across the board.  As the tine of printing, we have no updates as to whether the government might be considering the authorising of such an important pillar for rights administration in the music industry.

Radio continues to attract audiences, but with the vast percentage of the population being younger than the global average, it has experienced its share of audience upheaval. The local industry is notable particularly for the vast range of languages that are represented in the market, catering to the dozens of expat communities.

From a regulatory perspective, we have seen little movement since the 2017 Cabinet Resolution on Media Content (with its corresponding Ministerial Resolution) (2017 Resolutions) and the controversial 2018 Electronic Media Activity Regulation Resolution (the E-Media Law).

An Advertising Guide, launched at the end of 2018, was much commented on but was, in reality, a summary high level of the 2017 Resolutions and the E-Media Law, adding only some clarifying wording around compliance in relation to social media posts.

Influencers continue to dominate the conversations about marketing in the region. The figures are impressive:  the UAE has one of the highest mobile phone penetration rates in the region meaning that media consumption is literally at their fingertips night and day.  It has been reported that a staggering 85% of millennials in Saudi Arabia and the UAE follow at least one influencer.

Unfortunately, influencer compliance with the E-Media Law and the Advertising Guide in relation to declaration of paid content remains lower than the global average. These two dictate the usage of #ad or #paid_ad in all such content.  It is rarely seen.

Twitter has lifted its Ramadan presence for 2020 providing broad media analysis of the hashtag #ramadan and Linked In undertook its first Ramadan focussed campaign in 2020, which emanated from the local offices, where it highlighted the hashtag #monthofkindness. There is significance in global brands engaging locally in such a meaningful manner – the recognition of a valuable audience.

More interesting has been the government’s use of these new regulations as the situation surrounding Covid became more serious. The state news agency WAM advised very early in the situation that the UAE Attorney-General had said: "Spreading fake information and rumours is a crime punishable by law."  Under the 2012 CyberCrimes Law, such a prosecution is indeed possible.

In a first for the region, Facebook expanded its global fact checking program to the MENA region, joining hands with a local fact-checking firm to ensure sources were credible and provide up-to-date information from credible sources in each country.

The UAE's National Media Council temporarily restricted the distribution of all print newspapers, magazines and marketing material during the crisis.  Excluding large supermarkets from the restriction, the directive also allowed for regular subscribers to able to receive their usual printed copies.  Unrelated dot this announcement, but happening in the same month, key local publisher Motivate has decided to move to a free distribution model.

Across the board, we continue to see the development of what was, even a decade ago, a young media market.  


Media Growth in the UAE, and Industry Reaction to the

Covid-19 Pandemic

Written by Fiona Robertson  

Al Tamimi & Company

Whilst there is always a story to be told in relation to the growth of the media industry in the Middle East, 2020 has been dominated by tales related to the regional reaction to the Covid-19 pandemic.The media industries reaction to the situation has been wide and varied but as always, it has been interesting. Anghami (the region’s local, and large, music platform) has donated free audio advertising spots to SME’s on its platform, allowing them to access its 13 million listeners in a way that they might not be able to do within current budget restraints. As a business itself, Anghami continues to grow in size and influence.

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Fiona Robertson is a senior Media lawyer at Al Tamimi & Company, the largest law firm in the Middle East.  With over 25 years’ experience, Fiona is recognised globally for her unparalleled knowledge of media and entertainment laws in the Middle East, as well as her understanding of the complexities of commercial practice in the extended media sector.  

Regularly providing solution orientated legal advice to the regions key broadcasters, local and international producers, global content platforms, music platforms and entities, as well as government bodies, Fiona has worked with some of the world best known global media brands to enable them to understand the regulatory and commercial landscape when launching online content platforms, e-commerce sites and key music services.  She has done extensive work on the financing, production and distribution of feature film and long form content in the region, including assisting many international players with their local production issues. She is respected by clients for her quick and pragmatic advice in relation to clearing advertising content and has particular expertise in relation to social media marketing and the use of local influencers.

Fiona completed her Bachelor of Laws at the University of Adelaide back in the 80’s and later graduated with her Diploma in Legal Practice from the University of New South Wales.  Before moving to the Middle East in 2008, Fiona spent 16 year’s working as In-house Counsel for Australia’s largest national broadcaster and for two of the country’s largest independent producers.


Fiona Robertson