Wayne Borg's Exit From Abu Dhabi’s Twofour54 Raises Questions for Middle Eastern Industry

Wayne Borg

The former Universal executive, who spent six years building the outward reach of the Abu Dhabi banner, raised eyebrows when he stepped down just as this year's Dubai International Film Festival was getting under way.

DUBAI – Festival attendees continued to digest and mull the potential changes that will stem from the exit of former Universal exec Wayne Borg from his role as chief commercial officer of Abu Dhabi media and production banner twofour54.

Borg, whose parting of ways with the Abu Dhabi-based powerhouse emerged earlier this week as the Dubai International Film Festival and market got into full swing, is an established presence in the region.

He is widely credited by the media industry for bringing studio savvy and an outward-looking global view to his quest to boost the profile and reach of the government-backed organization, which is the umbrella banner now running the Abu Dhabi Film Festival and Media Summit.

STORY: Dubai Fest Chair Talks Censorship, Balancing Arab Cinema and Hollywood Glitz

Borg’s exit will mean "changes from the top down," said one industry insider at the Dubai Film Festival. 

Borg joined twofour54 in early 2008 and was handed an extensive list of responsibilities, including day-to-day operations for twofour54 and overseeing the training academy, production and broadcast facilities, and the talent and content development initiatives.

As the CCO, Wayne also oversaw and led key twofour54 strategic initiatives, including the Abu Dhabi Film Commission, the Abu Dhabi Film Festival, Tropfest Arabia and the Abu Dhabi Media Summit.

Twofour54’s media zone in the United Arab Emirates’ city now houses more than 160 media companies, including CNN, the BBC, Fox Intl. Channels and Cartoon Network. 

The Abu Dhabi Film Festival, previously separate, was integrated in 2012 into twofour54 to spearhead the drive for the UAE’s second largest city to become the main entertainment and media industry hub in the region.

"That’s why Borg’s departure is significant," said a source operating in the region. "Will it become more inward looking?"

The elephant in the room here in Dubai and beyond is the fact that the Arab Spring in 2010, which saw a wave of revolutionary protests -- both violent and non-violent -- spread across the region, is leading to a tightening of rules and attitudes towards perceived liberalization.

And Borg’s exit comes as the organizers of the three main festival city events in the region -- Abu Dhabi, Doha and Dubai -- display a noticeable degree of bonhomie toward one another, having previously been fiercely competitive in recent years in their bids to establish themselves as the Middle Eastern gateway for the movie industry.

Earlier this week during Dubai's fest, the Doha Film Institute hosted a reception with speeches congratulating Dubai on its 10th anniversary and heralding the event for establishing itself as a go-to destination for Arab filmmakers and their international counterparts.

"This would never have happened a few years ago," said one veteran Middle East festivalgoer on the show of togetherness.

Borg, who is reported to be returning to his native Australia after his six-year stint, will likely be replaced by an Emirati national, the long-established business modus operandi in the Emirates.

THR is awaiting a response from twofour54 on Borg’s replacement -- as are festivalgoers in Dubai and the regional industry as a whole.