Last week global media executives including News Corporation Chairman & CEO Rupert Murdock, industry giants such as Google, heads of state, and new media leaders including Allvoices CEO Amra Tareen, stood side by side on equal footing at the Abu Dhabi Media Summit in the United Arab Emirates' capital. The exclusive invitation-only summit was created by Abu Dhabi Media Company to get the Middle East up to speed with emerging media, creating Arabic content, and bringing business as well as creativity to the region.
As CEO of the largest and fastest growing global citizen journalism site, Tareen's invitation to the forum represents the power of Internet- and technology-enabled citizen reporting, engagement and community. Allvoices currently has over 8,000 citizen reporters from the Middle East and 340 citizen reporters from Abu Dhabi alone.
Abu Dhabi aspires to become an international media hub, and investors plan to commit millions from oil profits to the region's media infrastructure. Telecom companies are gearing to add bandwidth and wireless infrastructure for the 295 million Arabs in the region who have very low Internet connectivity today but will reach 120 million connected soon. Chairman & CEO of Google, Eric Schmidt, wants to bring Arabic content online via Google search and digitization.
Karim Sabbagh, the Global Practice Leader for Communications, Media & Technology at Booz & Company, moderated a panel at the summit in Abu Dhabi titled, Mobilizing. With two billion people coming online over the next five years, the panel debates the question, How will smartphones and always-on, personalized news, entertainment and commerce transform traditional media?
According to the Booz & Company report, Winning in MENA's New Media Scene, Middle Eastern communications, media and technology players have experienced double-digit growth since 2003, and they have been slow to capitalize on the accelerating shift to new media. New media revenues in the region are expected to triple.
The MENA (Middle East and North Africa) region is considered so important that in addition to older Arab media operators like Al Jazeera, Al Arabia and CNBC, China, Iran and Russian are also broadcasting Arabic-language news. Iran launched Alalam in 2003, Russia launched Rusiya Al-Yaum in 2007, and in 2009 Chinese state television, CCTV, began broadcasting an Arabic-language channel to expand their media influence. Despite the crowded stage in broadcasting, MENA is a potential hot spot for new media, and the space is wide open for players like Allvoices.com, which covers world events.
"The Middle East has a relatively homogenous social and cultural heritage and high literacy rate, and the new generation of media consumers demands personalization, interaction and socialization," explains Tareen. "New media players need to understand and respond to this new type of complex and sophisticated audience to be successful in the region."
Allvoices was chosen to share its new media perspective on citizen participation and engagement in current events, and view on new low-cost models for leveraging technology and community (i.e. citizen reporters). Allvoices CEO Amra Tareen spoke at the BBC World News debate, Who pays in the digital age? Chaired by the BBC's Zeinab Badawi, The World Debate asks, Will newspapers survive the digital age? Will the current media revolution make for a better informed world? Fellow panelists Jonathan Miller, CEO of Digital Media at News Corp, and Chris Ahearn, President of Media at Reuters, shared mainstream views, and Tony Orsten, CEO of twofour54, provided a Middle East perspective.
"With CEO Edward Borgerding, the Abu Dhabi Media Company has created a powerful summit with an unprecedented showing of renowned media leaders," says Tareen. "They assembled an exciting program which included key debates on global media issues such as changes in the economics of media, opportunities in new growth markets, and challenges in the media environments of fast-growth markets. As a woman CEO of a new media startup (and there are not many), I am proud to have participated in such a historic event and to help enable discussion and creativity in the region."
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