The MENA Power List 2021: Cultural relativity, by Havas’s Dany Naaman

By Dany Naaman, CEO Havas Group Middle East.

years in role: 3 | years in company: 16 other roles: Member of the Board, IAA
UAE Chapter

The media and entertainment sector in the Middle East has been vital to the region’s growth and visibility. Although local providers have made considerable strides in developing media and content, and although they have produced considerable revenues, global platforms continue to dominate the market, restricting local players’ prospects of capturing a larger share of the pie and denying local economies billions of dollars.

We have been seeing multiple government initiatives aimed at building a more knowledgeable and better-trained workforce and boosting a variety of businesses. Programmes such as Human Capability Development, Nationalisation and Project HQ, among others, indicate that nation leaders realise the market potential and are taking further steps toward improvement. However, stringent policies could weigh on growth and diversification if they get in the way of knowledge transfer, learning and exposure. At this stage, a multi-cultural approach would yield the best results, a strategy that the UAE continues to develop and successfully deploy. The path to success is to draw on global experience while investing, nurturing and encouraging local progress.

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The digital era has revolutionised the media content and entertainment field, and people have now placed entertainment at the centre of their existence. A study by Havas Group, in partnership with Cannes Lions, on the future of entertainment revealed that 83 per cent of people consider entertainment as having a vital role in their lives. That number has risen since the pandemic, with consumers going out less and looking for content to fill their time.

While global platforms and tech dragons have almost monopolised the business, local flavour and relevance are still in great demand. However, it’s not merely about localisation and adaptation; it is more about the breadth and depth of local content and the quality of the production. According to the Havas Prosumer survey, 78 per cent of respondents agree that platforms should include meaningful local content in their native language and 81 per cent say that it’s important that artists promote their national culture. In that context, there is a notable shortage of local content in native languages.

PWC’s MENA Entertainment & Media Outlook 2020-2024 report forecasts that entertainment and media revenues are expected to increase faster than the global average within the coming couple of years. The potential here is to retain the industry revenues in the region’s economy. A great opportunity for the industry to cultivate national and regional champions in entertainment, content and production, and support the growth of local talent.   

Whether it’s in terms of skill or experience, the region has plenty to offer. The abundance of talent in Egypt, Lebanon, Saudi and Syria, in combination with the GCC’s financial and technological advancements, has the potential to help the sector strive, but there is still hard work to be done in meeting global standards.

It remains crucial to keep the business in the market and develop the industry further, allowing more jobs, attracting more talent and participating in efforts to drive economic diversification. We have the money and the resources to build the future, we just need a new operating system.

Professional highlight of the year

I don’t think any of us would have believed in January 2020 that we would be pitching in a remote environment, yet here we are in September 2021, and we have managed through a series of local, regional and global pitches all through Zoom and Teams. It is amazing how flexible the teams have been and how they have adapted to this new environment. Not only have we adapted but we have been successful. We added many clients to our roster around the region. We’ve proven we have a product that works and, critically, we’ve got the team that can do this.

Rapid fire

What are you working on?
Making a meaningful difference to our industry.

What are you worrying about?
Children who live in conflict zones. It’s on a dangerously upwards trend.

What are you smiling at?
Happy moments.

What are you reading?
The Chain.

What are you watching?
Casa Del Papel.

What/where are you eating?
Italian, of course.

Who are you listening to?
My team.

What are you playing?

What’s your hobby?
Playing sports.

What’s your good habit?
Regular physical activity.

What’s your bad habit?
Eating fast.

Who are you learning from?
My twin boys.