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It’s Showtime In Saudi Arabia

‘Black Panther’, the US$ 1.2 billion blockbuster will open the first AMC-branded 620 seats theater on April 18 in Riyadh. It is estimated that the Saudi Arabian theatre market could generate up to $1 billion at the box office by 2023

On an early April morning at the elegant Four Seasons, Doheny Drive in BeverlyHills, California the doors of the ballroom were thrown wide open. The men and women who matter in Hollywood and are normally discussed as ‘A Listers’ took their seats. Right across from them a slick promotional audiovisual, underscored the fact that nearly seventy percent of Saudi Arabia’s population is less than 30. Many have substantial disposable income and a scarcity of entertainment options. And the fact that 32 million Saudi Arabians were interested in entertainment.

Earlier, Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman rented out all the 285 rooms of the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills on his four-day visit to the entertainment capital of the world and to pitch his kingdom as a new emerging market for Hollywood. The General Entertainment Authority (GEA) of Saudi Arabia was looking at foreign partnerships in Los Angeles with major theatre companies to launch cinema in oil-rich Gulf nation. Crown Prince’s decision to lift a three and a half decade ban on movie theaters has opened the lucrative new market for multiplexes. Dalian Wanda-owned AMC Theaters have declared their commitment to launch up to 100 cinemas in Saudi Arabia by 2030, with IMAX likely to follow suit. ‘Black Panther’, the US$ 1.2 billion blockbuster will open the first AMC-branded 620 seats theater on April 18 in Riyadh. It is estimated that the Saudi Arabian theatre market could generate up to $1 billion at the box office by 2023.

Saudi Arabia's $230 billion sovereign wealth vehicle, the Public Investment Fund, is on track to invest hundreds of millions in Hollywood. The 32-year-old farsighted Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman meanwhile dined at Rupert Murdoch’s Bel Air estate with five major studio heads including Disney’s Bob Iger, Warner Bros.’ Kevin Tsujihara, Fox’s Stacey Snider and Universal’s Jeff Shell. As part of his Vision 2030 program, the Crown Prince has reportedly announced plans for an investment of over $64 billion in building entertainment infrastructure and ecosystem largely from the ground up over the next decade. Notably, National Geographic Explorer will build an immersive walkthrough adventure  “Ocean Odyssey,” at 10 locations starting with Riyadh in 2019. Cirque du Soleil, will put on its first-ever show for Saudi National Day later this year. Florida based Field Entertainment, is to produce “Disney on Ice,” “Disney Live,” “Marvel Experience,” and “Monster Jam” in the desert nation Hollywood star Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson is planning a trip soon to meet his fans in the oil-rich country.

As the first new screens go up in the Kingdom, Hollywood suits have seen this kind of movie packed with foreign dollars before. In November 1990 Japanese own Matsushita had paid $7.5 billion to buyout MCA Inc. and Universal Pictures studios and theme parks. The previous year Sony paid $4.8 billion to purchase another Hollywood studio, Columbia Pictures Entertainment Inc. After the Japanese investors, the UAE government’s Image Nation in 2009 concluded a $250 million feature film fund with production outfit Participant Media, a $100 million joint venture with National Geographic Films, a $250 million financing deal with Ashok Amritraj’s Hyde Park. Even Anil Ambani’s Reliance locked up a multimillion-dollar deal with Spielberg’s DreamWorks in July 2009. Two years ago, Dalian Wanda Group chairman and billionaire Wang Jianlin held a swanky gala at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Chinese money invested in Hollywood at one stage totaled approximately $5 billion but the Chinese government has since scaled down on foreign investments.

And all of a sudden in another part of the world the Saudi Arabia’s entertainment industry is now open for business with Hollywood.

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Bhuvan Lall

The author is the Chairman of Lall Entertainment

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