Poparabia and ESMAA founder Spek.
The IMI 8th Sep 2021

Spek: ESMAA launch 'signals new era for performance licensing in Gulf markets’

In territories that have largely ignored performance licensing until now, Popasia and ESMAA founder Spek expects to see a lot of growth that will be meaningful to the local and global music industry...

PopArabia boss Spek has hailed the start of a new era of performance licensing opportunities in Gulf markets following the reveal of new UAE-based rights music entity, ESMAA.

ESMAA, which translates to the Arabic word for ‘listen’, launched in August with agreements in place to represent the rights of global collecting societies in the Gulf region, including the UK’s PRS for Music and Canada’s SOCAN.

PopArabia and ESMAA founder Spek said at the time of the announcement, “After navigating music rights challenges in this region for many years, I can say with confidence that the work we are doing at ESMAA represents a historic step forward for music licensing in the Gulf.”

Speaking to The IMI, Spek elaborated on the difficulties around music licensing in the region to date, and why recent changes will mean new opportunities for rights-holders.

“Over the past decade we went from a lot of unlicensed syncs to being able to regulate and grow that business in commercials, film and TV,” he explained. “Nowadays in the Gulf, for the most part, syncs are licensed appropriately, we have a healthy advertising industry and we’ve seen the entry of Netflix and other video streaming platforms growing the TV/film pie. Though, I would say, we still do find a lot of infringements on social media from corporate clients.

“Performance licensing has been largely ignored by the market, due in large part to the legal conundrum that prohibits foreign rights organisations from licensing into the market without a local business license. Foreign PROs have tried in the past with little success, so the launching of ESMAA really signals a new era to opening that side up.”

With a population of approximately 65 million and a strong youth demographic with disposable income to spend, there is an audience for music across the territories, but it’s a greater liberalisation and significant regional investment in the culture, arts and entertainment sectors that have led to real potential.

"As we roll out licensing to broadcasters, hotels, venues and regional digital platforms, we expect to see a lot of growth that will be meaningful to the global industry as well as the local one."

“Saudi Arabia, the largest market in the region, is a country that was closed for all forms of public music or modern entertainment since its founding, yet is now on a path to liberalisation of social norms, investing in major tourism initiatives, the opening of thousands of cinemas, music festivals, radio stations, theme parks and hospitality,” said Spek. “Billions is being spent in an aggressive growth trajectory there.”

When it comes to the UAE, he added: “We’re seeing major global events, the country focusing on developing an eco-system around the creative economy, more multi-billion dollar investments in arts and culture projects, an existing vibrant live scene that has seen the world’s biggest stars playing Dubai and Abu Dhabi for the past decade and no signs of abating.

“As we roll out licensing to broadcasters, hotels, venues and regional digital platforms, we expect to see a lot of growth that will be meaningful to the global industry as well as the local one.

“At the end of the day, we’re starting from a zero point, so it’s all growth, but we have a well-developed eco-system rife with big corporates who never had a local rights organization to license through before ESMAA.”

ESMAA is also developing a “comprehensive” music repertoire databased for the Gulf territories.

“In the past there’s never been a broad-based industry repertoire database that provides the copyright picture for these markets,” said Spek. “It obviously poses a challenge for accurate licensing and distributions, not to mention making it very difficult for a licensee if they don’t have an accurate sense of what rights they have.

“The goal is to develop this across repertoire types (publishing and sound recordings), and by growing the amount of music we have detail on, we can provide clarity for a market that has been pretty opaque for the industry for a long time. Better data will lead to better distributions, which will lead to more revenue in the hands of rights owners and music creators for the industry at large.”