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This year’s PWC report points to steady growth of 4.6% in the global entertainment and media market between 2021 and 2026: a markedly more optimistic outlook. This outlook has been reflected locally.

The UAE has enjoyed an influx of new residents, and an injection of ultra high net wealth. 2022 was a strong financial year across most key sectors, and the media & entertainment sector was no exception. This report will run through some of the verticals that have been particularly relevant to this performance, and highlight a selection of some key industry and legal developments that have occurred over the past year or so.

Digital Asset Leadership

The UAE wants to become the global leader in Web 3.0 and digital asset services. The dedication at government level has been impressive. Technology and online businesses are arriving in significant numbers. One of the more notable developments in pursuit of this goal in 2022 was the establishment in Dubai of the Virtual Asset Regulatory Authority (VARA).

VARA now provides regulatory oversight of all virtual asset related activities and businesses in the Emirate. It issues licenses (which are now compulsory for virtual asset businesses in Dubai, except in the DIFC) and supervises a wide range of activities from investment advisory services to exchange platforms (for more information on the subject you can access the Virtual Assets and Related Activities Regulations 2023 through VARA’s own website here). Yes, the new regulatory framework necessarily rolls out some red tape for businesses looking to major in new (at least relatively new when it comes to the mainstream media and entertainment sector) and exciting digital asset classes like NFTs (famously, Instagram). It is also possible that this red tape and its accompanying costs may deter smaller businesses from setting up. But, the hope at government level is that transparent, predictable, and independent oversight will eventually (if not immediately) inspire investment activity in the sector.

Given that the Regulations were only issued in February, it is too early to tell whether or not VARA will achieve its intended purpose. Our view is that it has every opportunity to. After all, it sits in a market (MENA) that Chainalysis put at the very top of global crypto adoption in 2022. Whilst the adoption of cryptocurrency in and of itself does not necessarily feed into an increase in regulated virtual asset activity/revenue, it does suggest that there is a strong foundation for an upswing in local transactions based on crypto. The vast majority of these transactions will be undertaken in relation to goods and services that require the sort of services and products that VARA regulates.

Digital ecosystems are enormously important for the UAE. The majority of the nation’s citizens, according to government data, spend more than seven hours a day online. A total of 99% of the population are actively engaged with online services and social media. This figure is growing. One of the UAE’s leading telecommunications providers, E&, recently published statistics by the Fibre To The Home Council that confirm that the UAE’s 97% fibre to home penetration is the highest in the world.


Certainly given the digital engagement of the population of the UAE, there is no escape from the ubiquity of ChatGPT, nor from the torrential outpouring of various and diverse AI image generation engines onto the market. As with many other jurisdictions, these developments have caused some concern amongst regulators and citizens alike. Despite this, the UAE remains a territory in which, to date, no directly relevant legislation exists. We should point out that this by no means is unique to the UAE. The difficulties inherent in AI regulation and the management of its consequences for industry and private individuals are visible in government processes across the globe.

Here, the Ministry of Artificial Intelligence was founded in 2017 to tackle a series of national objectives in this field. They mainly relate to the development of an ecosystem, talent pool, and economy. But they also include plans to review international best practices in legislation and to develop strong governance and effective regulation. The detail on exactly how this is to be achieved is not yet clear. As mentioned above, a level of uncertainty like this is not entirely out of kilter with other jurisdictions. In the UK, for example, the government’s policy paper on the subject has similarly abstract guiding principles for future legislative contributions such as a “pro-innovation approach” and the promotion of “international governance”, rather than anything definitive. The two jurisdictions have a collaborative and international outlook to the development of governance in common.

AI presents a particular conundrum for the media sector in the UAE in the absence of regulation. Computer generated works risk harming revenue streams for a number of creative businesses. For example, agencies and individuals offering commercial musical and design services may find themselves replaced by algorithmic approximations of former clients’ instructions. It may already be the case that some damage is being done, but the data is not in yet. The regulation that might protect against this in the field of copyright has not yet reached a settled position. It is not yet possible to advise clients with any certainty on claims for infringement in relation to AI works and against whomever the appropriate natural or legal defendant might be (programmer? publisher?). In any event, all of this assumes clients are likely to choose AI generated works that are similar to existing works. One would assume that most sensible businesses would opt for works that are not.

For those businesses which do rely on AI generated works, there is no clear guidance on the ownership of their copyright. The closest we can get is the wording of the latest iteration of the UAE’s Copyright Law (No. 38 of 2021)  which provides some indication as to where we might look in the event that the identity of an “Author” cannot be determined: “otherwise, the publisher or producer of the work, whether a physical or juristic person, shall be deemed as representing the Author in the exercise of his rights, until the true identity of the Author is recognised”.

Issues such as these are important to get right as, by almost any metric, AI is set to play a significant role in the UAE’s future economy. PWC estimate that the value of AI’s contribution is on course to be USD96 billion by 2030 – a whopping 13.6% of the country’s GDP. This would be the largest proportionate allocation of GDP to AI in the entire GCC.


The advertising world was also touched by the addition of new rules relating to virtual assets. VARA is to be responsible for regulating their marketing. The aim being the protection of the public from harmful promotions within the Emirate. This authority stems from an Administrative Order issued in 2022 (1/2022, referred to as the “Marketing Regulation”). The regulation covers both direct and indirect marketing, whether it is through traditional media or via social media platforms and even influencers. Regulation applies regardless of whether or not the advertising in question was paid for. Interestingly, it also applies to the marketing of virtual assets by anyone – whether or not they themselves are directly regulated by VARA as virtual asset service providers.

Given the uptick in interest, across multiple verticals in the entertainment and media industry, in engaging in the promotion of virtual assets and related services, it is important that the jurisdiction of VARA does not come as a surprise. Smaller businesses or individual traders like influencers are particularly at risk. Whilst compliance with some of the contents of the Marketing Regulation will come naturally to any sensible media professional, like clearly identifying paid-for promotional posts (this has been compulsory since Cabinet Decision 23/2017 on Media Content and was flagged in our media law roundup last year), others will be less obvious. In particular those regulations adopting positions that are more closely related to financial regulation than the marketing of ordinary artworks or digital collector cards. Marketeers are required to ensure that their promotions do not advocate that virtual asset investments are safe or low risk, or that investment decisions are easy or suitable for all. They should also include prominent disclaimers in their communications around the variability in the value of virtual assets.

As we say, this is much more likely to present a problem for influencers and businesses without the benefit of in house legal teams or external advisors. But this is a sizeable chunk of the market. Not only sizeable but increasingly important. Campaign Middle East reports that for every dollar spent on influencer marketing, there is a return of USD5.20 for the brand being represented. This will not be lost on potential clients. The publication also notes that amplification content from influencers is also on the rise. Reposts rarely attract the same degree of attention from influencers and agencies as original posts, which is a problem as deficient marketing could result in significant fines of AED200,000. All of this in a market estimated by the Ministry of Economy to account for 46% of the Middle East’s total advertising spend.

TV, Film, and Cinema

In a longstanding industry such as the film industry, legal and regulatory changes can be something of a rarity. In 2022, the biggest change in the UAE was the introduction of the new “21” age rating, which permits viewers able to corroborate their age with appropriate ID to see films with adult themes entirely unedited. This liberalising move may come a surprise to some foreign observers, as the same year saw some reasonably high profile instances of censorship.

Outside of legal developments, the UAE market remains buoyant, and the Gulf region as a whole surpasses all possible expectation. As reported in the Khaleej Times in October last year, the fastest growing film market in the world was in the Middle East. The UAE’s Ministry of Economy predicts that, on the basis of its current trajectory, the local cinema market will join the top 10 global markets by box office revenue by 2030.

There is a renewed focus on Arabic content in the UAE. This has led to the production of a number of internationally acclaimed releases, including HWJN which won a number of awards at the Red Sea International Film Festival. Off the back of successes such as these and a growing number of local Arabic-focused VOD/SVOD the UAE’s government predicts that there will be a movement away from 70% of the media market being Arabic translations of English titles to the reverse – home grown content exported to English language markets for translation.

SVOD and VOD continue to be major growth markets. The UK’s YouGov ran a 2022 survey on streaming revealing that 21% of UAE consumers will likely stream more this year than last. Market revenue is expected to hit USD USD157.10m in 2024, which represents an annual growth rate of 5.75$ per annum, according to Statista.


The UAE is perhaps better known for being a one off event destination than the home of well attended local sports leagues. Yes, the soccer league is well funded, but average attendance per game still languishes behind some of the world’s larger equivalents. Back in 2017 the Sports Journal reported that average attendance was somewhere around the 2,500 spectators per game mark. Football continues to be country’s most popular sport. All of this is in stark contrast with, the annual Abu Dhabi Grand prix, which is a beacon of success on the F1 circuit. It regularly sells out of stadium tickets within days of them becoming available. Attendances regularly exceed of 160,000 spectators at the Yas Marina circuit. There was a global viewership of some 108.7m individuals watching on TV and online in 2021.

This year brought with it a number of sporting initiatives seeking to close the gap between seasonal events and UAE based long term sporting programming.

First, the International League T20 cricket tournament had its inaugural season. This is the world’s second best funded cricket tournament. It produced a combined viewership of 27.87 million in Indian markets alone according to Sports Mint Media’s reporting of statistics gathered by the Broadcast Research Council of India. On the ground attendance statistics are a little harder to come by and a Cricbuzz interview with the Secretary General of the Emirates Cricket board suggests they were disappointing but, nevertheless, the 2023 season is already pencilled in for January 2024.

Then there is a proposal to bring a baseball league, backed by some of the biggest names in Major League Baseball (including hall of famer, Barry Larkin) in the form of Baseball United. The league hopes not only to provide the UAE with a home grown spectator sport with a dependable fan base, but to serve as a platform for previously overlooked baseball talent in South Asia.

Lastly, Eurohoops reports that a proposal has been submitted by the owner of the Dubai Basketball Club to send club to compete in the Euroleague basketball. The bid includes a contribution of EUR 150m to be paid to the league over six years to help (among other things) support smaller teams, and a proposal to host a final four competition in Dubai’s very own Coca-Cola Arena.

Amongst all of this, the eSports sector in the UAE is perhaps the most important of them all. Some estimates put gamer engagement at 65% of the local population in a global market that is now worth USD $170 billion. PWC have reported that of all sports in the Middle East, it is eSports that comes out on top in public polls predicting the greatest potential for growth.


Another sector that has a particularly tight connection with virtual assets; the UAE has been able to capitalise on the Covid-era boom in NFT and digital art sales. There are regular openings for digital and experiential installations, and the digital section of Art Dubai is now a permanent fixture. The first edition in 2022 reported strong sales and, anecdotally, this year’s edition was equally successful with an increase in the number of digital exhibitors from 17 to 22. This should all be seen in the context of a booming local art market generally. It is also a market that is gradually maturing, although UBS/Art Basel’s 2022 Market Survey still notes that 39% of the country’s gallery output focuses on emerging talent. This is indicative of both local galleries’ commitment to new local talent, but also of a market which still has progress to make in relation to established and blue chip artists. More mature markets such as London and new York are closer to 20% in the emerging talent category.

Abu Dhabi continues to produce ambitious cultural programming at an institutional level, with the Louvre hosting the Middle East’s largest ever exhibition of Impressionist works via a collaboration with Musée d’Orsay. The UAE has a favourable regulatory environment for touring exhibitions, including a reliable immunity from seizure regime (stemming from Federal Decree Law No 2 of 2017).

Last year also increased acquisition activity from the Natural History Museum of Abu Dhabi, which famously acquired “Stan” the T-Rex in 2018 for a figure of USD %31.8 million. The museum’s opening is scheduled for 2025.


In 2022 the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry signed a memorandum of understanding with the UAE in relation to the sharing of certain information and data. Perhaps more importantly, the MOU pointed towards government collaboration in creating a copyright framework that includes collections made in relation to artists’ rights. This may eventually herald the creation of a collection society of some sort in the UAE. The IFPI quoted the Assistant Undersecretary for Commercial Affairs as saying: “Among other areas included in the MoU, collective management is only the beginning to fuel the economic potential of the UAE’s and the region’s creative economy”.

Final Thoughts

Digital and blockchain related news items were clearly the focus of the media market in the UAE over the past 12 months. The introduction of new regulatory authority in the form of VARA and the inherent uncertainty of AI will mean that it is more important than ever for businesses to keep a close eye on developments and to seek advice. The pace of change is unlikely to slow over the coming months, and it will result in pitfalls as well as opportunities.

The UAE’s performance culturally and economically has been deeply impressive. It is at the epicentre of a global explosion in creative invention and it is putting in place the governance to ensure that the results are delivered securely.


Media and Entertainment Update

Written by Mark Hill & Chris Haywood,

Charles Russell Speechlys

In our last report we observed that we were still in remarkable times. This was largely because the world was still easing its way out of Covid and markets were a little unpredictable. PWC had predicted an 8.3% dip in the entertainment and media market, and there was little way of telling whether any regional returns had anything to do with a short lived Covid-rebound. Throughout the course of 2022 and moving into 2023, certain trends in the industry have become a little clearer.


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Mark Hill heads up international law firm Charles Russell Speechlys’ Commercial, IP & TMT practice in the Middle East and is responsible internationally for the firm’s activities in the film and production space. Mark is a Partner with 30 years of experience as a high level strategic commercial lawyer and has been based in Dubai since 1999. Mark specialises in intellectual property and has particular industry focused knowledge in the media, entertainment and events industries.


Prior to joining Charles Russell Speechlys, Mark was the Managing Partner of The Rights Lawyers, a boutique industry-focused intellectual property firm that he founded in Dubai in 2003. The Rights Lawyers was the Middle East’s first and only boutique media, intellectual property and technology law firm.


Mark has been advising production houses for decades. He is known by and acts for many of the production companies operating in the Middle East region and is advisor to the UAE’s Production Forum (the key business association for primary production houses operating within the UAE). Mark and his long-term team have been described by The Hollywood Reporter as “the ‘go-to’ guys for all things media in Dubai”. Mark acts for a variety of production houses, film producers, entertainment and media companies, celebrities and artists, high-end retail franchising groups, leading local telecommunications firms, financial service sector clients, sports bodies as well as technology and app providers. 


Some of Mark’s high-profile clients include Image Nation Abu Dhabi, Racing Green Pictures, Voltage Films, Boomtown Productions, regional film directors Ali F. Mostafa and Reshel Shah Kapoor, the International Cricket Council, Al Tayer Group, Majid Al Futtaim, Haier Electronics Middle East, and the Mediapro Group. He also stands on the Board of various companies from the sectors in which he operates including key industry organisations such as the Middle East International Live Events Association. He is also regularly featured as a speaker at industry events, seminars and conferences throughout the Middle East and internationally.

Chris Haywood,

Senior Associate

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Chris Haywood is a senior member of our Art and Luxury team. In London, he represents a number of significant international artists, collectors, museums, financiers, galleries, and luxury brands. In Dubai he leads the expansion of the international Art and Luxury practice in the Middle East and beyond. He has a particular expertise in advising drinks businesses and holds a diploma from the WSET. In addition to expertise in commercial legal advice, and managing global intellectual property portfolios, he has significant experience in advising clients in relation to finance and media matters.


As a dual qualified Solicitor and Chartered Trade Mark Attorney, he has experience of working in London, Paris, and the Middle East, and has conducted proceedings in the EUIPO, UKIPO, English High Court, and across a number of arbitration regimes. Chris has published works on interface between law and architecture, as well as copyright and the arts. He is a LexisNexis contributing author in relation to domain name disputes.

Mark Hill, Partner, Commercial, IP & TMT


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