Doha media symposium charts the future of global news and entertainment

February 25, 2015

Global media scholars and industry players in Doha this week examined how seismic shifts in the way digital content is consumed and distributed are reshaping the global news and entertainment industries.

NU-Q's Fresh Global Media Players conference, supported by a grant from the Qatar National Research Fund, gathered local, regional and international academics, commentators and practitioners to discuss the radical transformations of news and entertainment over the past decade. Experts were joined by students, Qatari media entrepreneurs and government officials, including from Qatar’s Ministry of Culture, Arts and Heritage.

Digital disruption in the global advertising industry and the dizzying growth of online search as a profitable review stream were key themes throughout the two-day forum.

In a provocative keynote on the new economics of news, Yaser Bishr, executive director of strategy and development at Al Jazeera Media Network, urged delegates to reconsider how content producers can make money in the age of Google and online search. He urged collective action by news organizations, whom he claimed were undervalued in financial terms, to recapture some of the $140 billion market now dominated by search giants and digital advertising. Bishr, who has overseen the creation and development of AJ+, a groundbreaking digital news channel merging Al Jazeera’s editorial talent with Silicon Valley tech innovation, said: “Engagement is the future currency.”

Anne Geniets of the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism presented strategies that international broadcasters are exploring to connect with a younger, digitally native population in developing countries—a group she dubbed “the next billion.” Geniets predicted that chat apps like WhatsApp, a new media player in its own right, may help big broadcasters like the BBC engage and connect emotionally with a new generation. Presenting the findings of her own research on the topic, Geniets said, “I believe this could potentially become one of most transformative developments in the history of global media players.”

Mohamed Jaidah, owner of Firefly Communications and special guest at the symposium said: “It’s very interesting to see media from an academic point of view and also very interesting to see a lot of subjects that are very much in the moment, such as the use of chat apps. These gatherings, which Northwestern has managed to keep on a very regular basis, have been touching on some very interesting points on the future of media, not only in the Middle East, but in the world.” 

Fresh Global Media Players is the brainchild of two NU-Q faculty members, Joe Khalil and John Downing, who are experts on the Middle East and global media, respectively. Khalil, NU-Q associate professor in residence, was impressed with the exchange of ideas and level of debate: “our speakers brought groundbreaking new information and unique perspectives to the table, and I was particularly interested in the level of engagement from the audience. Our guests came from diverse backgrounds—news, government, business and the academy—yet all have a stake in the changing media landscape.” 

NU-Q places a strong emphasis on the research of media and communication in the Middle East. Later this spring, NU-Q will release Media Use in the Middle East: A Six-Nation Survey that tracks the habits and behavior of news and media consumption in the region. The sought-after survey will, for the first time, include information about the use of platforms like WhatsApp across the Arab world—an area many feel should be given higher priority in the study of media and communications.

“From the rapid rise of Turkish television dramas across the Middle East and North Africa to the economics of pirated video content, we are in the midst of a global redistribution of communication power to the Arab world and Global South,” said Everette E. Dennis, dean and CEO of NU-Q. “We were proud to host a discussion where such distinguished thinkers broke ground on what the future of media may look like.”

The forum, which concluded on Sunday, also gave NU-Q journalism and communication students the chance to interview the symposium’s high profile speakers. The full list of speakers included: Dr Abdulnasser Al Ansari, Deputy Executive Director, QNRF; Annabelle Sreberny, professor of global media and communication at the Centre for Media Studies at SOAS, University of London; John Sinclair, honorary professorial fellow at the University of Melbourne; Tristan Mattelart, professor of international communication at the University of Paris 8; Mohamed Zayani, associate professor of critical theory at the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service in Qatar; John Jirik, planning editor, CCTV News; Andrea Esser, principal lecturer in media and communications at the University of Roehampton, London; Sevda Alankuş, dean of the Faculty of Communication, Kadir Has University in Istanbul; and Joe Khalil, associate professor in residence, NU-Q.