ASM appoints GM for Middle East’s largest convention centre
ASM Global has appointed Dr Debbie Kristiansen as general manager of the new Bahrain International Exhibition & Convention Centre, which will be the largest venue of its kind in the Middle East.
Kristiansen, who has lived and worked in the Middle East for 16 years, joins ASM from Novo Cinemas where she worked as CEO for more than seven years.
The Middle East vet ranked in the Top 30 Most Inspirational Women in the Arab World 2019 and was named Middle East Female CEO of the Year 2018.
“Debbie has more than 30 years’ experience in the industry and her leadership skills will bring many unique qualities to the role,” says ASM Global APAC & Gulf Region chairman and chief executive, Harvey Lister.
“Debbie has more than 30 years’ experience in the industry and her leadership skills will bring many unique qualities to the role”
“Her appointment will help consolidate ASM Global’s reputation in the region as the world’s leading producer of event experiences and enhance Bahrain’s standing as an international meetings destination.”
Kristiansen added: “To have the opportunity of working both for ASM Global, and to return to the beautiful destination of Bahrain, is a dream come true. This will allow me the privilege to help mentor and build the talent and skill set of young Bahrainis for generations to come.
“I look forward to working closely with Bahrain Tourism & Exhibition Authority to develop and grow the international MICE business, and to create a long-term legacy for Bahrain,” she concluded.
The Bahrain International Exhibition & Convention Centre is scheduled to open in 2022.
ASM’s Middle East portfolio also includes the Coca-Cola Arena in Dubai (cap. 17,000), the Oman Convention & Exhibition Centre and the recently announced Jeddah Arena and the International Convention Centre Jeddah.
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ASM Global expands Middle East venue portfolio
ASM Global is expanding its Middle East portfolio with the addition of two new venues in Jeddah, Saudia Arabia.
The global entertainment giant has been appointed as the managing operator of the 20,000-seat Jeddah Arena and the International Convention Centre Jeddah (ICC Jeddah), both set to open in December 2025.
The two new venues will be located adjacent to Jeddah’s King Abdulaziz International Airport, as part of the Jeddah Airport City project.
ASM’s Middle East portfolio already includes the Coca-Cola Arena in Dubai (cap. 17,000), the Oman Convention & Exhibition Centre and The Bahrain International Exhibition & Convention Centre.
“ASM Global is looking forward to being an integral part of the team to deliver this visionary project in Jeddah,” says ASM Global Asia Pacific chairman and chief executive, Harvey Lister.
“It was only fitting to appoint the global giants in the venue and entertainment industry to collaborate on this landmark project”
“We pride ourselves on joining forces with partners with whom we know we can make a difference to creating and delivering amazing experiences.”
SARH Real Estate and Development founder and chairman of SARH Real Estate Investments, Sultan Al-Harbi, added: “Upon analysing the significant importance of both the iconic arena and convention centre, it was only fitting to appoint the global giants in the venue and entertainment industry, ASM Global, to collaborate on this landmark project for Jeddah and Saudi Arabia.”
SARH Real Estate and Development recently announced the Airport City project, which will include three to five-star hotels, a shopping mall, ‘world-class’ parklands, a dedicated business centre and residential sector, as well as many other recreational amenities. The development is set to commence by the end of 2021.
Today’s news comes weeks after ASM was announced as the managing operator of The Bahrain International Exhibition & Convention Centre – the largest venue of its kind in the Middle East.
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ASM to operate largest convention centre in Middle East
ASM Global has been appointed as the managing operator of the largest exhibition and convention centre in the Middle East.
The Bahrain International Exhibition & Convention Centre will offer 95,000 sqm of exhibition space over 10 halls, a 4,000-seat tiered auditorium and 95 meeting rooms.
Royal & VIP Majlis (parliament rooms), event organisers’ offices and a 250-seat capacity restaurant will complete a total site area of 309,000 sqm.
Upon completion in mid-2022, the venue will host a range of events including exhibitions and conventions, concerts, live events, weddings and seminars.
ASM will manage, operate and programme the new destination, after being successfully appointed by Bahrain Tourism & Exhibition Authority (BTEA).
“[This development] will further position Bahrain as a growing international destination helping to drive growth”
“We are delighted to have been appointed the operator of what will be a landmark development, which will further position Bahrain as a growing international destination helping to drive growth and create jobs as well as a legacy for the Kingdom,” says ASM Global Asia Pacific chairman and chief executive, Harvey Lister.
“We look forward to working with Bahrain Tourism & Exhibition Authority in creating a brand-new exhibition and convention hub at the heart of the region.”
Iain Campbell, executive VP, ASM Global Gulf Region, added: “The appointment as managing operator is testament to ASM Global’s expertise, knowledge and experience in bringing venues to life across the world.
“Our aim for Bahrain International Exhibition and Convention Centre is to create a venue with its own distinct identity that resonates with MICE [meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions] visitors as well as the leisure and tourism market that benefits the local economy and enhances the Kingdom’s status globally.”
Bahrain Tourism & Exhibition Authority chief executive officer, Dr Nasser Qaedi, says: “The new centre will reinforce the Kingdom’s status regionally and internationally and Bahrain’s position in the MICE industry. We look forward to working with ASM Global to attract international exhibitions and conferences to be held in Bahrain.”
ASM Global’s venue network spans five continents, with a portfolio of more than 325 arenas, stadiums, convention, and exhibition centres, and performing arts venues.
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Anghami to open venues in Middle East, UK, US
Anghami, the largest music streaming service in the Middle East and north Africa (Mena), has announced plans to open music venues in Dubai, Riyadh and several other Middle Eastern cities, as well as in the UK and North America.
Lebanon-based Anghami, which is preparing for a flotation on New York’s Nasdaq market, has partnered with hospitality company Addmind to launch Anghami Lab, an “innovative entertainment venue” concept which will debut in Dubai in early 2022. According to the companies, Anghami Lab will bridge the worlds of live and digital music, its live stage being joined by a studio where performers can create “music inspired by both Arabic and international cultures” which will then be made available to listen back exclusively on Anghami.
In addition, new features will be added to the Anghami app “complementing both experiences”, say the new partners.
“This is a great opportunity to further reinforce the value we provide digitally to be converged offline in a unique user-to-guest experience”
Eddy Maroun, co-founder and CEO of Anghami, says: “We are excited to partner with Addmind to create this unique, transformational experience for our users. Addmind is a leading expert in conceptualising and operating hospitality spaces, and this is a great opportunity to further reinforce the value we provide digitally to be converged offline in a unique user-to-guest experience.”
Following the opening of the Dubai venue, further Anghami Labs are planned for Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia, then Jeddah (Saudi Arabia), Cairo (Egypt), Beirut (Lebanon), London, New York and Los Angeles.
“Anghami is more than just a streaming platform,” comments Tony Habre, CEO of Addmind. “They have elevated the value of the music industry in the Middle East as a whole. Anghami Lab is an amazing and unique concept that embodies our rich Arab culture with an international twist, which we are thrilled to bring to fruition and scale.”
MDLBeast’s Ahmad Alammary: “Saudis love to dance”
Ahmad Alammary, chief creative officer of Jeddah-based entertainment company MDLBeast, has said the success of its recent Freqways festival further underlines Saudi Arabia’s emergence as a live music market to watch.
Alammary describes MDLBeast (pronounced “Middle Beast”) as an “entertainment and lifestyle experiences brand with a focus on music, art and culture”. Founded by a group of “ambitious professionals [from] various backgrounds and disciplines”, the company’s first event, the MDLBeast festival, took place in December 2019, with performers including Steve Aoki, Martin Garrix and David Guetta, as well as a number of local DJs.
“It was iconic, historic and a truly groundbreaking moment in Riyadh,” recalls Alammary, who also DJs under the name Baloo. “People really enjoyed what we prepared, and we pulled it off in record time.”
In keeping with the times, MDLBeast’s second festival was an all-digital affair: a 12-hour, multi-stage online event that took place from 20 to 21 June. MDLBeast Freqways again featured a mix of international and local talent, with Baloo and compatriots Cosmicat, Antabi Brothers and Jade and Tala rubbing shoulders with the likes of Aoki, Afrojack, Claptone, Maceo Plex and Benny Banassi during the free-to-watch live stream.
Freqways – which ran from 7pm to 7am local time – was seen by more than 650,000 people and recorded 1.2 million total views, with attendees in 185 countries across the Middle East, North America and Europe, according to MDLBeast.
“There are so many talented artists in our region”
The DJs performed live from their own cities, allowing those with an MDLBeast Freqways ‘boarding pass’ to visit destinations including Las Vegas (Aoki), Zurich (EDX), Rotterdam (Afrojack), Beirut (Jade and Tala), Paris (Phil Weeks) and Thee Ain, Saudi Arabia (Baloo).
“We wanted to develop something that anyone could relate to, and that we were all longing for,” explains Alammary. “Discovery, travel, culture, dancing, nature, heritage: all these came into play, and we produced 30 videos in locations around the world.”
“We realised that we needed to give people a sense of escapism,” he continues. “We wanted to remind people, virtually, that there is so much to see around the world, even through a screen – to bring people around the world together through a virtual musical experience.”
A “string of future events” are in the pipeline for MDLBeast, including further Freqways ‘flights’ and more “physical events, once we feel it’s safe again”, according to Alammary.
Events like MDLBeast/Freqways, as well as the growing number of shows in Saudi Arabia more generally, illustrate how “accepting and encouraging of cultural events” Saudi music fans are, he says. (Other recent festival successes include Jeddah World Fest and Winter at Tantora, while artists including Mariah Carey, BTS and Marshmello have played headline shows.)
“It was iconic, historic and a truly groundbreaking moment in Riyadh”
“People all over the world love music,” continues Alammary, and Saudis are no different: “Saudis are musical people; we love to dance!”
While many foreign observers focus on the newfound ability of Saudi Arabia to attract major international artists, Alammary says MDLBeast is committed to using its platform to showcase and developing local talent. “There is a big community of music-lovers in Saudi,” he says, and “Saudi DJs have been seeing great popularity on a local and regional level” after years of playing underground.
“There are so many talented artists in our region,” he concludes, “and we wanted to create a platform that celebrates them and our own perspective of nightlife and entertainment.
“There’s so much more coming, and we’re excited about bringing it to the surface.”
Bridging the Gulf: Arab Gulf states come of age
And it was all going so well!
Going into Christmas, you might have said the live entertainment business in the Arab states of the Persian Gulf states was on a decisive path to maturity, at least in certain prominent markets. Dubai finally had its permanent Coca-Cola Arena and was hauling in the crowds and the talent, including Maroon 5, Westlife, the 1975 and John Legend.
Abu Dhabi, meanwhile, had nailed down a name for its own 18,000-cap. indoor venue – Etihad Arena, part of the 12 billion AED (€3bn) Yas Bay development project – and an expectation of a 2020 opening.
Even Kuwait, fairly quiet lately on the touring front, was preparing to cut the ribbon on a 5,000-cap mixed-use arena: the Sheikh Jaber Al-Abdullah Al-Jaber Al-Sabah International Tennis Complex in Surrah, managed by Live Nation and opened in February.
And, of course, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the pedigree dark horse of the region, was fast emerging as by far the most promising market of them all, with concerts, festivals, Formula E racing, international tennis, equestrian competitions and boxing. To varying degrees, these events have met with international controversy due to Saudi’s well-known diplomatic issues.
But they have also been powered by large amounts of cash, rabid local demand and the grand ambitions of ‘MbS’ – controversial crown prince Mohammed bin Salman – and his Vision 2030 plan to reduce Saudi Arabia’s dependence on oil, diversify its economy and develop its public sector.
“Dubai is a country that depends on tourism and entertainment, so they will be very keen to reopen as soon as possible”
Then came Covid-19, which still rages worldwide at press time, and the region was forced to hit pause on its entertainment aspirations. Like almost everywhere else, concert halls closed, shows were postponed, and the industry went into enforced hibernation. When it will rouse itself again is anyone’s guess.
“As with the rest of the world, all events [in Saudi Arabia] are cancelled until further notice,” said Vassiliy Anatoli, managing director of regional ticketing hub Platinumlist, speaking to IQ in late March. “The public is not allowed to go outside the house from 3pm until 8am and the death toll is rising. People are worried.”
The UAE states had imposed similar measures and were already daring to dream of a light at the end of the tunnel. “Large organisers are hopeful to restart their operation in July, but again, that depends on how the situation pans out in the coming [months],” said Anatoli.
“Dubai is a country that depends on tourism and entertainment, so I’m sure they will be very keen to reopen as soon as possible,” he added. “[Dubai’s] Expo 2020 has already been moved to ’21. As for the rest of the organisers, they have moved all events to November and December. Rugby Sevens is confirmed for December, but again, it depends on government regulation.”
Each of the various Gulf markets has its own economic logic: generous state funding combined with remarkably strong ticket sales in Saudi; a similar balance in Abu Dhabi, albeit on a far less turbo-charged scale; and a grittier commercial market in Dubai, closely controlled, but not underwritten, by the state. Clearly, all will suffer damage, even if some can absorb it better than others.
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Les Dunes Electroniques returns to Tunisian desert
Les Dunes Electroniques, an electronic music festival held on a former Star Wars set in Tunisia, returned for the first time since 2014 last weekend, welcoming around 6,000 dance music and sci-fi fans to the Sahara desert for two days of music.
Taking place on Saturday 16 and Sunday 17 November at Ong Jemel, near the border city of Tozeur, Les Dunes Electroniques (‘the Electronic Dunes’) debuted in 2014 but had been on indefinite hiatus since the 2015 terror attack at a tourist resort in Port El Kantaoui.
Boasting ‘30 hours of non-stop music’, the 2019 festival featured performances by 30 DJs, including Luciano, Apollonia, Baris K, Archie Hamilton, Parallells and Nicolas Lutz, across two stages.
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L'une des photos des #DunesElectro, où on voit tout le festival et sa proximité des lieux de tournage de Star Wars. De quoi rendre jaloux quelques dizaines de millions de fans de la Saga. #CometoDunes #CometoTunisia #duneselectro #nefta #tozeur #tunisie #musicfestival #desert #starwars #partypeople #festival #hippylife
According to RFI, Les Dunes Electroniques 2019 was organised by a Franco-Tunisian hotelier, with backing from the Tunisian tourist industry.
Ong Jemel was one of several Tunisian sites used in both the original and prequel Star Wars trilogies, serving as Anakin Skywalker (Darth Vader)’s childhood home of Mos Espa, on Tattooine, in Episode I: The Phantom Menace.
Speaking to AFP, Melissa Fleury, a 22-year old festivalgoer who travelled from France, said: “I love festivals in France, but here in the desert and in the midst of this landscape, it is magical.”
Mariah Carey performs free in Dubai Expo 2020 launch
A year to the day before Dubai hosts a six-month long World Expo event, Mariah Carey is due to perform in a free concert at Burj Park.
The concert, dubbed One Year to Go, will take place on 20 October, with local singer Hussain Al Jassmi, as well as acts DJ Bliss, Abri and the Funk Radius and Khalifa also billed to perform.
The Expo, which was awarded to Dubai in 2013 by the International Exposition Bureau in Paris, will take place on a main 438-hectare site enclosed by three thematic districts – opportunity, mobility and sustainability.
A variety of live performances, cultural activities, business presentations and global celebrations will occur during the Expo.
The United Arab Emirates is also hosting live performances at the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix Formula One race from 28 November to December 1. Lana Del Rey will perform in the Middle East for the first time at the event, alongside EDM star Marshmello, the Killers and rapper Travis Scott.
In December, British singer Dido will perform and Dubai’s Media City Amphitheatre (15,000-cap.) and Bruno Mars will close out the year with a headline New Year’s show at the du Arena (25,000-cap.) in Abu Dhabi.
Last month, AEG Ogden, the operator of Dubai’s 17,000-capacity Coca-Cola Arena, celebrated the role the arena was playing in placing the UAE – and the wider region – on the international touring map.
Read more about the Middle East’s growing live events market below.
Dubai “go-to” tour destination with arena success
Dubai’s 17,000-capacity Coca-Cola Arena, which opened its doors three months ago, has already hosted shows by Maroon 5, Westlife, the 1975 and Alicia Keys, playing a key role in placing the United Arab Emirates on the international touring map.
The multipurpose arena was born as part of a collaboration between Dubai-based developer Meraas and AEG’s Asian/ Australasian venues arm, AEG Ogden.
The largest venue of its kind in the region, Meraas and AEG Ogden hope the arena will become the premier destination in the Middle East’s burgeoning live events scene.
The arena is fully enclosed and climate controlled, transforming Dubai from a “winter-only” touring destination into a year-round option for promoters. Floor space measuring 3,870 square metres and a variety of seating and stage configurations allow for a range of event types.
“Dubai is already a major entertainment hub for the entire region and the opening of Coca-Cola Arena has helped to further establish the city as the go-to destination for acts visiting the Middle East as part of global tour schedules,” comments AEG Ogden’s chief executive of Coca-Cola Arena, Guy Ngata.
“Dubai is already a major entertainment hub for the entire region and the opening of Coca-Cola Arena has helped to further establish the city as the go-to destination for acts visiting the Middle East”
“Meraas has shown a great vision to expand Dubai’s live entertainment offering and in doing so has an asset that will become one of the world’s great live venues.
“Together with Coca-Cola and all of our partners and stakeholders, there is a real passion in establishing the venue as the perfect fit for international touring artists, productions, sporting activity and shows of all genres,” adds Ngata.
Coca-Cola announced a ten-year naming-rights agreement with AEG Ogden in April, in what the soft drinks giant deemed a “milestone deal”. The arena also counts Indian ticketing platform BookMyShow among its partners, signifying the first global arena deal for the company.
“Despite only being open for a few months, Coca-Cola Arena is already firmly established as one of the city’s biggest attractions,” continues Ngata. “We look forward to hosting even more great live acts and events as we develop and expand the events industry in the UAE to even greater levels of success.”
Dubai’s Coca-Cola Arena opened on 6 June, with a performance by Canadian comedian Russell Peters, before Maroon 5 made the arena’s musical debut on 14 June. A list of upcoming events can be found here.
(Can’t) play that funky music: Music licensing in the Middle East
The business of music licensing continues to be a difficult area in the UAE and, generally, across the Gulf region. European collective rights management agencies are once again writing letters to various users of music, claiming their rights.
On that basis, we felt it was timely to address this issue so that everyone fully comprehends the rights position.
Firstly, despite claims that we read, from time to time, on social media posts, the UAE Copyright Act recognises various rights relating to music, including the much-discussed issue of the public performance rights, as part of the rights granted to authors under Article 7:
“Only the author and his successor or the copyright holder may authorise the exploitation of the work of art, in any manner whatsoever, namely by way of copying including downloading, electronic saving, any drama performance, radio broadcast transmission and re-transmission, public performance or communication, translation, rearrangement, amendment, renting out, borrowing, or publication in any manner including presentation via computers or information or communication networks or any other medium.”
These rights are similar in the various Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries.
Internationally, when it comes to broadcasting or any public performance of music (such as in restaurants or hotel lobbies), the practice of licensing is done by way of collective rights management. This is the process by which the user of the music engages with a copyright collection society to obtain a blanket licence to allow them to legally use the music in their businesses.
In many jurisdictions, the copyright collection societies typically enter into relationships with the creators/owners of the music whereby the public performance rights are exclusively licensed to the copyright collection society. They then have the exclusive rights to globally license the public performance rights in the music. Notably, they also work with other copyright collection societies across the globe in order to collect money on behalf of their national members. Therefore, if a restaurant in Paris plays music from a Brazilian composer, that composer should receive a fee.
As an industry, both users and owners of music will be best served by the introduction of certainty
At this moment in time, there are no copyright collection societies operating in the GCC region. This is for a number of reasons, and can be traced back to the operation of the copyright acts in each country. Some territories require them to be licensed (UAE, Oman, Bahrain). Kuwait does contemplate the existence of copyright collection societies, but with no clear guidance. Saudi Arabia does not mention them in its Copyright Act, neither by way of allowing or prohibiting them, and neither does Qatar.
From an UAE perspective, the government has yet to license any entity to undertake the activity of a copyright collection society. This includes activities undertaken by foreign copyright collection societies, which nonetheless continue to send demand letters to UAE businesses from other countries, seeking licence fees. They do not have the right to do this.
- Even if a company wants to license music within its business, it is going to find it difficult to do so. Large entities have the ability to consult lawyers for advice, but smaller businesses continue to use music without a licence
- Anyone wanting to negotiate any rights is at the mercy of the commercial operators – the record companies and publishers that control the rights in this region – because there is no established rate card for payment for the licences. In other countries, the rate card gives businesses absolute certainty as to money that needs to be set aside for music licensing
- Foreign companies will continue to write unpleasant demand letters to local companies despite not having the government mandate to operate in the country
- UAE and GCC talent are not represented overseas. If Emirati music is played on a radio station in New York, there is no copyright collection society here to receive the money that is generated from the public performance
- Large-scale events cannot provide third parties (such as performers or exhibitors) with a platform for public performances that are free of potential infringement. They often are left without the ability to license the public performance rights at all because of the complexity of the global law and practice in that area
As an industry, both users and owners of music will be best served by the introduction of certainty as soon as possible.