Qatar’s tepid entertainment scene sees few A-listers; sponsorships and permits remain an issue
Photo Courtesy: Flash Entertainment
Despite niche cultural events, the mass entertainment scene in Qatar is quite low-scale as far A-list performances go. JustHere speaks to events organisers to understand why Qatar fails to
The frequency of live events in the country is in stark contrast to that of in other GCC nations like the UAE and even Bahrain. The UAE has hosted many legendary artistes such as Madonna, Justin Timberlake, The Rolling Stones and Muse in the past and continues to do so with high-profile bands and artistes such as Black Sabbath and current chart-toppers Macklemore & Ryan Lewis who are set to perform there this year. Cities such as Dubai and Abu Dhabi have music festivals, concerts and events that run all through the year. Although Doha does host events, they are specks on a large canvas, which are neither on the same scale as the UAE, nor do they feature very high-profile performers.
Problems with venue
– Bilal Taha
A leading Doha-based events organiser Bilal Taha attributes the dearth of large-scale concerts by well-known performers to the lack of sponsorship and scarcity of venues. “It is a purely financial issue; it is not affordable to bring A-list artistes to Qatar, especially when we don’t have suitable venues that can accommodate a large number of spectators. Madonna, Bruno Mars and Lady Gaga are all willing to perform here, but nobody is able to finance such large events or to take a risk on smaller venues. Qatar only has stadiums, which are not suitable for concerts; alternative venues are usually hotel ballrooms or beaches.”
Organising events such as this in hotels and on beaches has its own exclusive set of problems. Hotels often subsidise rentals and try to gain revenue on alcoholic beverages.
This has caused problems before, as most bars in hotels do not allow patrons in national dress, and the rule is extended to events that serve alcohol.
There was controversy on the eve of Russell Peters’ show last year where the fine print on the ticket said those wearing national dress would not be allowed. Similar confusion prevails in music events on the beach in luxury hotels, where alcohol is served.
Since organising social events frequently is not always profitable, some local promoters sustain their businesses primarily through corporate events. One such company is Red Apple Events & Media. CEO Jassim Mohammed feels that Qatar is still a ‘learning’ market and has a long way to go before it can reach the level of the UAE. “Qatar is a very funny market in terms of events; what works in the rest of the world sometimes doesn’t work in Qatar. We mainly target family entertainment and all our acts and concepts are based on these. We mostly organise corporate events and a few social events a year that mainly target South Asian families.
“The population with a spending capacity for entertainment is larger in the UAE than in Qatar, a good percentage of Qatar’s population is blue collar workers which makes it difficult for the promoters to break even when planning a big budget event.”
– Jassim Mohammed
Taha adds: “There is no official financial support in Qatar for entertainment from either the Qatar government (aside from the Qatar Tourism Authority, which is making an effort) or from the corporate world. Corporations in Qatar do not realise that events make for good communication channels to reach out to the general public and to certain target groups. In the UAE, many companies are financed by the government with multimillion-dirham budgets every year to bring in A-listers; in Qatar, this financial support doesn’t exist yet.
On the other hand, the number of venues in the UAE, Mohammed says, is much more than in Qatar, which makes it an event hub. “Before the Qatar National Convention Centre (QNCC), we didn’t have any good indoor venues and the existing ones were almost overbooked throughout the year. This is a major factor as you can see that once the QNCC was built, we have had a lot of good events like the Sarah Brightman concert, Adam and Selina, Disney On Ice, Stomp and many more. So having quality venues will increase the number of quality events,” he says.
Dubai, too tough a competitor?
– Mel Tyler
Companies that organise several large-scale events in the UAE too have a hard time breaking into the Qatar market..
Midas Promotions, which has promoted events in over 27 different countries since 1983 and has brought acts such as Blue, Robbie Williams, Swedish House Mafia, Michael Learns to Rock and others to the UAE over the years, has not been able to penetrate the Qatar market. General Manager Mel Tyler reports about “a definite lack of localised promoters with an appetite or the required experience to promote some of the larger scale international shows.”
In Qatar, Taha explains that organising an event begins with contacting an artist to gauge their interest and to obtain their approval to perform in Qatar. Then, based on the dates they provide, availability of potential venues must be ensured. Once the commercial part is negotiated, the permits should be processed through the Ministry of Culture and Ministry of Interior. It is important to finalise with the venue and get the permits first, before finalising with the artist.
Of permits and rules
Taha speaks of a major challenge he faced in the past related to permits. “In 2011 when I brought World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) to the Middle East for the first time, I was granted government permits very quickly but the final permit for the venue, a football stadium, had been rejected twice by the Olympic Committee due to some concerns of the maintenance department. It took a lot of meetings and several phone calls until it worked out in the third run. But we lost around one month of time, which in the Entertainment sector is very valuable time for marketing,” he said.
On the other hand, obtaining performance licenses in the UAE is easy, says Vice President of UAE-based CoSign Group, Ade. “Organising events in the UAE is challenging but not difficult. Challenges are mainly securing finance to back the events and trying to get sponsors on board. The government issues the performance licenses for the artists; they have a very realistic and efficient process which helps everyone involved. The most important rule for obtaining permits is to make sure performers adhere to the rules and regulations of the events. Securing the event is also very important.”
Ade’s company specialises in homegrown artists and Afro Beats, Dancehall and Urban events, and faced difficulties in securing a venue and obtaining performance licenses when they tried to organize an Afro Urban concert in Qatar.
However, according to Taha, in Qatar too the rules are quite simple.
“You need an agreement with a licensed security company to ensure safety throughout the event and agree to respect tradition, culture and religion in Qatar. Not to offend any of them or disrespect or anything similar.”