TW maps out wide-ranging Abu Dhabi deal


Time Warner's Warner Bros. Entertainment is moving into Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, via a broad-based strategic alliance that for the first time will give it access to the greater Persian Gulf region.

The partnership unveiled Wednesday with real estate developer ALDAR and the Abu Dhabi Media Co., which is newly established by the government, includes a $500 million feature film production fund. It also covers the development of video games, the creation of a theme park and hotel, jointly owned multiplex cinemas and the build-out of the infrastructure for Abu Dhabi's digital future.

Abu Dhabi is the biggest of the United Arab Emirates, and its capital has stated its goal of becoming a regional hotbed for culture and media/entertainment. Among other initiatives, it will host the inaugural Middle East International Film Festival from Oct. 14-19.

This year, the emirate also announced plans for the creation of the Abu Dhabi Film Commission, eyed as a one-stop shop for regional film production. Universal's recent film "The Kingdom" was shot in Abu Dhabi.

Neighbor Dubai also has been working to become a regional entertainment industry center, with the now well-established Dubai International Film Festival one key example.

Beyond the already wide scope of the new alliance's first initiatives, TW and its partners said they will discuss and explore additional areas for cooperation. Production facilities, film/video and digital content distribution as well as retail opportunities in the Gulf region are among the opportunities, executives said Wednesday.

Warners chairman and CEO Barry Meyer told The Reporter here Wednesday that the alliance meant far more than sticking a toe into the region's water. "It's a very, very significant step and commitment for us," he said in a meeting that also included the deal's other key players.

Film producer Hunt Lowry ("Donnie Darko"), who brought the parties together, will serve as the CEO of the yet-to-be-named film fund, which will be a 50-50 venture and calls for the development and production of broad-appeal films. Warners will retain worldwide distribution options and rights.

Meyer and Lowry said that the first film projects are being looked at now, with Meyer predicting the first announcements by year's end.

In a separate move, Warner Bros. Pictures International will work with Abu Dhabi Media Co. to develop a slate of Arabic-language films for local and pan-Arabic distribution.

Meyer emphasized that the partners will honor local tastes and sensibilities in their work under the new alliance. ALDAR chairman Ahmed Ali Al Sayegh said U.S. films and TV shows are popular in Abu Dhabi, but the emirate also wants to develop local fare.

Groundbreaking on the theme park and hotel is expected in 2009.

Ground already has been broken on the first multiplex cinemas; they are set to open in fourth-quarter 2010.