12Doha, Qatar: Leaders from Qatar’s publishing, digital media, public relations, and advertising industries came together at the Qatar Media Industries Forum (QMIF) to discuss the opportunities and challenges media companies face when expanding beyond national borders.

QMIF, which was established by Northwestern University in Qatar (NU-Q) in 2012, is a unique forum that engages decision makers in topics of critical importance to Qatar’s emerging media and communications industry.

The forum, moderated by NU-Q Associate Professor in Residence Ilhem Allagui, featured high-profile industry practitioners from the region on its panel, including Fares Akkad, head of distribution and digital business development at MBC Group; Redha Al-Haidar, board member at Tihama Holdings; and Raza Rizvi, head of technology, media and telecommunications at Simmons and Simmons, Middle East LLP.  

In his opening remarks, Everette E. Dennis, dean and CEO of NU-Q, said that the QMIF forums “play an important role in fostering a knowledge-based economy. Over the past few years, we have published various reports on media usage and industries in the region, and we are happy at NU-Q to be playing this important role of embracing the media industry in Qatar and the region, and growing with it. ”

In discussing the challenges and opportunities that media companies face when expanding beyond national borders, the panel focused on the legal, operational, and marketing obstacles that should be overcome before entering a new market. Through their combined experience, they brought best-practice examples on how media companies have solved these issues and achieved success in new markets.

On content distribution, Akkad said that the “two most important steps when expanding regionally are finding the right product or content that is worth taking across borders, and then finding the right platform to do so. Digital platforms are crucial and are changing the nature of media consumption, and must be part of any organization’s regional expansion plans.”

Al-Haidar noted that an important consideration in moving beyond borders is to “take into account hiring local talent as a company is expanding. This is crucial in ensuring that the product or content is relevant and relatable in the respective markets. Based on our own experiences, there has certainly been an interesting correlation between localizing talent in different markets and the success of content and expansion.”

He also emphasized the need for media organizations to have long-term objectives when expanding regionally, rather than plans based on a tactical point of view following the latest media trends in what he described as being a buzz-word driven marketplace.

On the topic of talent more specifically, the panelists were in agreement that the region has many exceptionally talented and creative individuals who do not always receive the opportunities to receive professional training or institutional incubation to develop further, emphasizing the important role that policy makers and governments can play in facilitating this.

Discussing success stories that have overcome the challenges addressed in the forum, the panelists referred to the likes of the Careem car service, Souq.com, and the Anghami music streaming service as being best-practice examples of how companies that were able to expand their products and services within the region with flexibility and cultural sensitivity.

NU-Q established the QMIF in 2012 as part of a wider effort to provide thought leadership, educate future media and communications leaders in Qatar and the Middle East, and produce groundbreaking research on industry trends and media consumption in the region.

About Northwestern University in Qatar:

Northwestern University in Qatar draws from its parent organization, Northwestern University (Evanston, Illinois), a distinguished history, famous programs and an exceptional faculty. Founded in partnership with Qatar Foundation, NU-Q provides a framework through which students explore the world and, ultimately, shape its future through its distinguished schools of communication, journalism, and liberal arts.

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