Bill Gates Talks Steve Jobs, Microsoft's Role in Entertainment, Charity at Abu Dhabi Media Summit

Bill Gates
Bill Gates

Three years ago, Abu Dhabi put on the first-ever Abu Dhabi Media Summit. Now held in October, it is back for its third edition with the likes of WME's Ari Emanuel, YouTube content guru Robert Kyncl, Bill Gates and former MTV and Viacom boss Tom Freston.

The Microsoft co-founder tells the invitation-only gathering of entertainment and technology leaders that he would rather continue to focus on charity work than run for president.

Speaking at the Abu Dhabi Media Summit on Tuesday, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates lauded the contributions of late Apple CEO Steve Jobs, said Microsoft is mostly looking to serve as an enabler and platform for content -- except for in the most interactive fields of content -- and said he prefers focusing on his humanitarian work over running for the job of U.S. president.

Gates was asked by an industry representative from the region whether digital should be a bigger component. "It is a little too early" to focus advertising only on digital and leave out a big TV ad component, even though the former will continue to increase, he said. He suggested that people should spend about 70 percent of ad dollars for those two segments on TV and 30 percent on interactive. But that likely will "flip in the next decade," he said.

Asked about Jobs, Gates said he "did a phenomenal piece of work." When Apple struggled, he returned to the company and "not only righted the ship but also made them incredibly valuable." Calling Jobs a competitor and friend, Gates added, "It was amazing what he did."

Could he return to a full-time Microsoft role beyond his chairman post? "I am now committed full time to my charity work," Gates told the Abu Dhabi crowd. He said he felt he could make a unique contribution with his philanthropic work.

Asked if he was interested in running for president, Gates said: "It is a very nice [role] I have right now. I'll give advice to the president just like I do to Microsoft," if desired, he added. And he quipped that his current work is "not term-limited to eight years."

Asked about Microsoft's role in the film and entertainment business, Gates said it is "mainly an enabler" that ensures that "great Internet-connected devices are out there, so people can consume films and make it easy to pay for films. We are more a platform for creation and distribution."

In interactive media -- from helping people navigate the TV and news to playing games -- the company can play a bigger role as both a tool vendor and a creator, he said. In that context, he predicted that consumers in the future would be able to skip "the sports I don't care about" and get custom-tailored weather information. "I don't think media consumption will be as uniform as it is now," Gates said.

He also said Tuesday that the growing media industry in the Gulf region can help "raise the voice of the poor" and effect positive change. "The media is a voice; it can create communities," he said. "The media can become a stronger collective conscience for the world, and I hope that is a role that you see for yourself."

In the third annual Media Summit's opening keynote appearance, Gates spoke mainly about global development under the title "The Next Road Ahead."

"This is a very exciting part of the world," Gates told the invitation-only crowd in the emirate that is looking to become a regional hub for the creative industries. He said he always enjoys coming the region and seeing its continued progress.

Gates said he first came to the Gulf region when was at Microsoft full time but has traveled here more often during the past four years when he focused on humanitarian work. 

"I see positive change accelerating every time [I come]," Gates said, lauding the region for its respect for the past and excitement to look into the future. "Tradition and change exist side by side [here]", he said, and the local population combines rising prosperity and commitment to education with a continued willingness to engage in charity in the keeping of Islam.

He argued that this gives the United Arab Emirates and the broader Gulf region "a key role in the fight against poverty and disease." After all, he said, "innovation should be for everyone, including the poorest."

Gates said the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, used his relationships to help in the fight against polio, which still exists particularly in parts of Pakistan, Afghanistan and Nigeria. The outreach got vaccines to parts of Pakistan and Afghanistan and encouraged local authorities to step up the fight against the disease, Gates said. 

He also argued that the Emirates' role in this fight against poverty and disease will only increase amid a broader "move towards strategic giving" to charities and good causes. And he argued that technology can be used for helping the sick and poor and ensuring that people have mobile phones to stay in touch.

The Media Summit on Tuesday also featured a late-afternoon "fireside chat" with William Morris Endeavor co-CEO Ari Emanuel entitled "Hollywood vs. Silicon Valley: Let's Be Friends."

The event, whose theme this year is "Digital Frontiers," runs through Thursday with such speakers as former Viacom CEO Tom Freston and YouTube content guru Robert Kyncl.


Twitter: @georgszalai