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As part of the Dubai Silicon Oasis Authority (DSOA) and Thomson Reuters' Free Zones Outlook Report 2017 that looks at how free zones enable growth of the Islamic economy, Michael Milo who is the CEO of Muslim Kids TV in Canada, answers questions about free zones and the Islamic media sector.
The report can be downloaded from HERE.
Q: What are some of the existing free zone initiatives in the Islamic media sector?
Michael Milo: I know that in Malaysia — what they have done with Malaysia Digital Economy Corporation (MDEC,) which is a government corporation that is encouraging the digital economy — companies can obtain MSC status. An MSC status company receives very favorable tax breaks, access to various grant programs and marketing support. Cyberjaya, just outside of Kuala Lumpur, is like Silicon Valley where MSC status companies can set up with preferred leasing and improved IT infrastructure.
I know there are other media zones in the GCC region and other Arabic speaking countries that similarly support the infrastructure needs of media companies. For example, Huda TV studios are located in Egyptian Media Production City (EMPC). They beneft from the infrastructure, as well as a large talent pool. There are thousands of media professionals that freelance throughout the EMPC. The result is better cross-fertilization of ideas and better collaboration because of co-location.
I have not heard of anyone starting an Islamic media free zone. I think because Islamic media is at an early growth stage. Islamic media companies, if they have the resources, take advantage of existing media free zones.
Q: What are the potential benefits of free zones in the Islamic media sector?
Free zones — I think a dedicated area would be very advantageous, especially if there were additional supports available to also stimulate the industry, like start-up programs, consultancy services, conferences and training.
I can see them having the effect of an incubator where various supports are provided. Islamic media companies search for the most cost effective infrastructure because they have such resource limitations and many are notfor-profts. Strong subsidies would beneft these companies and could be used to attract them to locate.
Currently Islamic TV channels dominate the Islamic media space. These channels are very spread apart geographically, as well as when it comes to cooperation. Most often they view themselves as competition. A free zone may overcome these challenges and beneft these companies through increased cooperation.
Free zones will be very benefcial to start-up companies. Currently many of the people establishing Islamic channels are coming in without much media experience. They are often philanthropists. A start-up zone could provide invaluable input into the business aspect of Islamic media and television. The returns for these philanthropists would be in the form of much more effcient operations of their channels, better utilization of resources and higher quality products.
Q: How can companies collaborate within a free zone?
Developing a common voice for Islamic media is very important. There are now hundreds of channels and many supporting service companies. For example, an association may be able to represent channels to satellite service providers to negotiate better rates.
A free zone could bring member organizations together for training, conferences and cooperation on various industry initiatives. For example, it would ensure that there is less duplication among channels regarding language markets. Many philanthropists are focusing on multiple language markets so this is important.
Islamic channels need to improve cooperation on content sharing. Programming is expensive and is one of the weakest areas for Islamic TV channels. Cooperating together to improve content will better ensure the long term success of TV channels. This also covers the area of utilizing third-party production services.
Islamic TV channels are far behind in this area, producing most content in-house and licensing very little content from third-party producers. An Islamic media free zone could work with TV channels to set up production funds to support third-party producers. Such funds exist in all mature media markets and have had the effect of adding variety to programming and creatively stimulating the industry.
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