ESMAA founder shares thoughts on regional music rights body’s first year in business

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Updated 09 August 2022

ESMAA founder shares thoughts on regional music rights body’s first year in business

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  • ‘Nobody can deny that we have been the loudest voice in the region,’ Hussain ‘Spek’ Yoosuf told Arab News as he reflected on effect it has had on the music industry in the Middle East
  • ESMAA, which takes its name from the Arabic word for “listen” and was established in August 2021, works with global rights holders to facilitate the licensing of music in the Gulf

DUBAI: In August 2021, the Abu Dhabi-based independent music company PopArabia announced the launch of ESMAA, a music rights management organization.

ESMAA, which takes its name from the Arabic word for “listen,” works with global rights holders and regional businesses to facilitate the licensing of music in the Gulf. In the year since its launch, it has signed agreements to represent global royalties-collection agencies, including the UK’s Performing Right Society for Music and the Society of Composers, Authors and Music Publishers of Canada.

It has also signed agreements to license music from the library of British record label Chrysalis Music and Global Master Rights, a neighboring rights company that represents more than 300 record labels and 2,500 performers including Rihanna, Billie Eilish, Metallica and David Guetta. Neighboring rights royalties are paid to performers who record a song, typically when it is played on the radio or in a public venue.




Hussain Yoosuf

ESMAA also operates as a client rights management entity of the International Confederation of Societies of Authors and Composers, marking the first and, to date, only time an organization from the Gulf region has been able to benefit from CISAC’s technical tools and solutions for the administration of creators’ rights.

In addition, it was the sole music-licensing partner for the Expo 2020 Dubai and is distributing royalties around the world generated by the event. This year, ESMAA announced a licensing agreement with Saudi entertainment company MDLBEAST that will ensure composers and rights holders are paid any time their work is performed at a MDLBEAST event.

Most recently, ESMAA signed an agreement to represent US-based performing rights organization the Society of European Stage Authors and Composers and its affiliate, Harry Fox Agency, a US mechanical rights organization.

“As ESMAA continues to fulfill its mission to provide a comprehensive music licensing solution in the Gulf, it is crucial that we continue to grow our representation of global music rights,” said Hussain Yoosuf, better known by his stage name “Spek,” the founder of ESMAA and its parent company PopArabia.

ESMAA has achieved a lot in just one year, yet Spek told Arab News that when he began his crusade in the region’s music industry people thought he was “crazy.” Although the UAE and other Gulf countries had laws in place relating to intellectual property rights and licensing “they didn’t really have any infrastructure of enforcement unless you wanted to sue everybody that you met” and piracy levels were at almost 90 percent across the region in the days when music was a physical, CD-based business, he explained.

“People thought I was crazy, because there was no reason to invest in the music industry in the Middle East at the time because you knew that whatever you invested in was going to get pirated,” said Spek.

His biggest challenge, he added, was the inability to “cultivate a healthy and varied ecosystem around music” because “you couldn’t have any monetization around the asset that you created.”

While he was an aspiring artist in Canada, Spek said he would work odd jobs to save up the thousands of dollars he needed to record his music in a studio. Now, with the advent of digital technology and music-streaming companies, old-style recording studios and distribution are almost obsolete. Anyone can record music in their home now and upload it immediately.

“All of the traditional gatekeepers have been eliminated; it’s the best time ever to be an independent music artist,” he said.

Music streaming has not only altered the way music is recorded and distributed but also how people listen to it.

“The way we consume music has changed based on the way we receive the music,” said Spek. “Moreover, it’s about the creation of domestic content.

In the US, old songs now represent 70 percent of the music market, according to research by MRC Data, a music-analytics firm. The Middle East region is bigger geographically than the US, Spek said, and so the audience here is more connected.

“Repression leads to expression, so you have a lot of people with a lot of things to say,” which means there are more independent artists coming out of the region, he explained.

Even before the launch of ESMAA, PopArabia was already supervising music licensing. Over the past 10 years it has represented all of the major music publishers, Spek said, and currently represents about 60 percent of all global music.

“When people are looking for a broad license, we’re often the first conversation because so much of the rights sit in one place,” he added.

“We ended up doing things that a traditional publisher doesn’t generally do, which is trying to solve industry problems. And I’m all for that — but how do you keep the lights on as a business if all your time is spent trying to fix the industry?”

And so, ESMAA was born. Despite initial challenges and difficulties, Spek said he has not really faced much “pushback.” Saudi Arabia, for instance, has made a “conscious decision to invest heavily in entertainment and make a lot of progressive moves that change the social fabric of the Kingdom.”

A few years ago, Saudi Arabia was not even “in the conversation” when it came to music and entertainment but now “there is so much excitement and they are looking at these issues at the very highest levels of the government in Saudi and are very committed to opening it up,” he said.

Through its work with governments and artists, ESMAA is committed to making a difference in the industry.

“Nobody can deny that we have been the loudest voice in the region with respect to these (licensing) issues and moving the market forward,” Spek said.

“When the history books are written, we have got some section in there for having begun a process to open up royalties and distribute royalties when music is put in public, which I think is an essential step to developing a healthy ecosystem.”


Saudi version of global ‘Idol’ talent show announced

Saudi version of global ‘Idol’ talent show announced
Updated 24 September 2022

Saudi version of global ‘Idol’ talent show announced

Saudi version of global ‘Idol’ talent show announced
  • Four famous Arab artists to judge contestants as filming starts in October
  • A joint venture between Saudi GEA and MBC Group, the program discovers local talent, mainly in Riyadh

RIYADH: A Saudi version of the international ‘Idol’ talent show franchise was unveiled on Saturday in a partnership between the Kingdom’s General Entertainment Authority (GEA) and MBC Group.
GEA’s chairman Turki Al-Sheikh tweeted that the Authority and MBC engaged in a partnership to launch the first season of “Saudi Idol,” which will kick off in December.
With filming scheduled to start in October, the Saudi Idol program will attempt to unearth local talent, mainly in Riyadh, with a four-member jury that constitutes of Saudi singer Aseel Abu Bakr, Emirati singer and actress Ahlam, popular Arab singer Asala (Syrian), and Iraqi-Saudi singer and composer Majed Al Mohandis.
“I’m happy to announce a new partnership between GEA and MBC Group to launch Saudi Idol… The program begins in December 2022” tweeted Al-Sheikh.
MBC’s program, “Trending,” a show that sheds light on news of artists, announced the start of preparations for the Saudi talent show with filming scheduled to start next month.
Announcing registration for the program, MBC tweeted: “You have a beautiful voice and would you like to sing? Do you like competition and enter the world of limelight and fame? Participate in the largest singing program. Don’t miss the chance, register now.”

 

 


MBC Group and Dubai Business Women Council host Women in Media forum

MBC Group and Dubai Business Women Council host Women in Media forum
Updated 24 September 2022

MBC Group and Dubai Business Women Council host Women in Media forum

MBC Group and Dubai Business Women Council host Women in Media forum
  • Two companies have signed a strategic partnership to coordinate their efforts to further women’s careers

DUBAI: The Dubai Business Women Council organized the “Women in Media” forum in collaboration with MBC Group, to discuss the role that media organizations can play in increasing the representation and accountability of women in media.

The event is part of the council’s #DBWCFORUMS initiative, which includes a series of talks that aim to raise awareness about the challenges and opportunities for women in different industries. 

During the event, MBC Group and DBWC signed a memorandum of understanding, which aims to coordinate and align both companies’ efforts in providing their female employees and members with access to mentorship programs, workshops and speaker sessions.

“This collaboration is of special importance as it unites two partners who value women and recognize their critical contribution to the economy,” said Nadine Halabi, business development manager of the Dubai Business Women Council.

“The council will continue to be committed to harnessing all available resources to serve its members and the business community, by organizing specialized events and seminars that add value to their personal and professional lives,” she said.

The forum focused on the importance of maximizing women’s strengths and potential to advance media work, develop strong female media role models, increase gender diversity, and foster a culture of success in the media industry.

Participants discussed the mechanisms needed to ensure balanced female representation in media, the best practices adopted by media leaders and officials, and the value of diversity in the workplace.

Samar Akrouk, group director of production at MBC Group, who held a fireside chat at the event, said: “MBC Group is proud to be a progressive trailblazer — on and off screen — in promoting gender equality. Throughout our organization and across most departments we have women in top leadership positions, as well as women that are identified and set on leadership tracks.”

“However, we are progressive enough to look at ourselves and say we can do more — and we will do more,” she said.

Akrouk highlighted self-limiting beliefs and how they can affect women in the workplace. She also offered advice on how to overcome these beliefs and offered guidance to those seeking a career in media.

The forum also featured three panel discussions.

The first panel brought together Rana Alamuddin, founder of BAYNEH W BAYNEK; Sally Moussa Hajjar, managing partner, Humanagement and Mohammed Abdulhaq, executive producer at MBC Group, to discuss the role and responsibility of media outlets in creating positive role models for regional audiences.

The second panel saw Bedriya Al-Saeed, employee engagement manager at MBC Group; Tala Obeidat, client partner, Leading Retail & Restaurants, Meta and Sara Eltarzi, communications director at OSN, discuss the steps and policies that led to better inclusivity and gender parity in media organizations.

The third and final panel brought together Rola Ghotmeh, founder and chief creative officer, The Creative 9; Natasha Romariz Maasri, executive creative director, Leo Burnett MEA and Andrej Arsenijevic, executive creative director and sustainability lead at Commonwealth McCann Dubai, to talk about responsible and impactful advertising and how to push boundaries through strategic messaging in society.

“We are thrilled to collaborate with MBC Group and look forward to coordinating our future efforts to develop the abilities of women and female business owners while also assisting them in acquiring media and marketing skills that can advance their careers,” Halabi said.
 


STARZPLAY reveals Saudi viewership trends

STARZPLAY reveals Saudi viewership trends
Updated 23 September 2022

STARZPLAY reveals Saudi viewership trends

STARZPLAY reveals Saudi viewership trends
  • Comedy, anime and Arabic drama are most watched categories in Kingdom

DUBAI: Regional streaming platform STARZPLAY has released a study revealing the viewership trends of Saudi audiences in 2022.

Comedy, anime and Arabic drama were the most watched categories in the Kingdom, the study found.

“The Big Bang Theory,” “The Office and “Two and a Half Men” are among the top watched comedy shows, while “Naruto,” “Naruto: Shippuden” and “Attack on Titan” top the list of anime shows.

In line with the popularity of anime content, STARZPLAY is adding an anime movie, “One Piece: Stampede” by Takashi Otsuka, to its library.

This year, “Ertugrul” and “Al Mo’asses Osman” were the most watched Turkish titles among Saudi viewers, while the new seasons of “Bab Al-Hara” and “Al-Daheeh” topped the charts for premium Arabic content.

In addition to these categories, Saudi audiences also favored exclusive action movies like “Hummingbird,” “Wild Card,” “Gringo” and “Misfits,” as well as first-run movie releases such as “House of Gucci,” “Infinite,” “Last Seen Alive” and “Clean.”

The most binge-watched shows this year included “Dexter: New Blood,” “The Flash,” “Your Honor,” “Young Sheldon,” “The Good Doctor” and “Mr. Robot.”

Most STARZPLAY users in Saudi Arabia streamed content via their TVs, with 42 percent of all consumption occuring on smart TVs, followed by iOS and Android devices.

“While anime, comedy and Arabic drama remain favorite genres for our viewers, we also saw an increasing interest for live sporting events this year, which has immensely benefited our position as the ultimate platform for sports in the MENA region,” said Nadim Dada, vice-president of programming and content acquisition at STARZPLAY.

In celebration of Saudi National Day, all new users who sign up on the day can enjoy a discounted rate of SR9.2 ($2.4) per month with lifetime validity.

The Kingdom “continues to be one of our largest markets, with our platform witnessing stupendous growth this year,” said Dada, who added: “We look forward to strengthening our presence in the market.”


Media rights watchdog condemns arrest of Iranian journalists as anti-state protests spread

Media rights watchdog condemns arrest of Iranian journalists as anti-state protests spread
Updated 25 September 2022

Media rights watchdog condemns arrest of Iranian journalists as anti-state protests spread

Media rights watchdog condemns arrest of Iranian journalists as anti-state protests spread
  • Government-imposed internet blackout makes it difficult to obtain information on individuals in detention

LONDON: Media rights watchdog Committee to Protect Journalists has demanded the release of all journalists detained while reporting on anti-government protests in Iran.

“Iranian authorities must immediately and unconditionally release all journalists arrested while covering mass protests around the country and restore blocked internet access to the country,” the CPJ said in a statement on Thursday.

As reported by CPJ, Iranian authorities have arrested at least seven journalists since protests began last Saturday.

A government-imposed, near-total internet blackout has caused major disruptions to phone networks and social media apps, making it difficult to obtain further information about individuals who have been detained.

According to exile-based Iranian human rights group Hengaw Organization for Human Rights, clashes between security forces and protesters have left 15 people dead and 733 injured.

“Iranian authorities must immediately release all journalists arrested because of their coverage of Mahsa Amini’s death and the protests that have followed,” said CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa program coordinator, Sherif Mansour.

“Iranian security forces must drop their repressive measures against the journalists telling this critical story and restore the internet access that is vital to keep the public informed.”

Protests erupted across Iran last week following the death of Amini, a 22-year-old woman detained by morality police after allegedly violating Iran’s strict hijab law.

Women first took to the streets to protest against police brutality and call for more freedom from Islamic law, which requires them to cover their hair and wear long, baggy clothing.

In the past few days protests intensified, with other women posting online videos of themselves cutting their hair and burning the hijab.

On Monday, authorities arrested photojournalist Yalda Moaiery. Two days later,  reporter Niloofar Hamedi was detained after security forces raided her home and confiscated personal devices.

Recent events in Iran have provoked an international outcry, with protesters staging rallies in front of Iranian embassies worldwide.

 


People with hearing disabilities to experience Saudi anthem at this year’s National Day

People with hearing disabilities to experience Saudi anthem at this year’s National Day
The flag features multi-force sensors woven into the fabric of a Saudi Arabian flag. (Supplied)
Updated 23 September 2022

People with hearing disabilities to experience Saudi anthem at this year’s National Day

People with hearing disabilities to experience Saudi anthem at this year’s National Day
  • Haptic technology used to create immersive flag experience, bringing music to life

LONDON: The King Salman Center for Disability Research and Saudi Research & Media Group announced on Thursday the launch of cutting-edge haptic technology that allows people with hearing disabilities to experience the Kingdom’s national anthem.

The two companies have teamed up to design a wearable “hearing flag” that enables people to “feel” the song as part of a campaign celebrating Saudi Arabia’s 92nd National Day.

The flag features multi-force sensors woven into the fabric of a Saudi Arabian flag, to create an immersive experience that brings music to life in a way that can be felt physically on the body.

“Using the ‘hearing flag,’ people can immerse themselves in sound through real-time touch haptics which recreate the sensation of sound on the body,” said the two companies in a statement.

King Salman Center for Disability Research tweeted from its official account: “Have you heard of a sound that gives life? Have you heard of a flag that sings to the nation?”

The campaign, which is a partnership between the for-profit and nonprofit sectors, highlights how Saudi National Day “symbolizes the spirit of cooperation and empowerment of all members of society.”

To promote the initiative, King Salman Center for Disability Research and SRMG also launched an emotional campaign film across social media platforms depicting people’s first encounters with the flag and their own national anthem.

The flag, born out an idea by SRMG, was produced by London-based wearable technology brand CuteCircuit, which pioneers smart textile and interactive fashion.