Following the well-publicised opening up of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to cinemas, a number of cinema circuits have announced plans to open sites in the country. First out of the blocks was AMC: following the original announcement, US exhibitor AMC Entertainment -owner of Odeon & UCI and Nordic Cinema Group in Europe- signed a non-binding memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund.
In more recent weeks, regional group Kuwait National Cinema Company (KNCC) secured the right to build three multiplexes in the Kingdom. KNCC wants to build 27 cinema screens in 3 sites by Q4 2018; in Riyadh, Jeddah and Dammam, as part of a first phase. KNCC is also in talks with real estate groups to secure additional multiplexes and single screen sites across the country. KNCC’s holding company Tamdeen Group operates two of Kuwait’s largest malls and will contribute to the design of the new spaces in Saudi Arabia as well.
UK cinema group Vue International has also signed a MoU with Riyadh-based Abdulmohsin Al-Hokair Holding Group, with a view to building up to 30 multiplex cinemas in the Kingdom over the next three years with the first coming on stream this year. Al-Hokair Group currently owns and operates three shopping centres, 79 entertainment centres and 45 hotels in Saudi Arabia, UAE, Turkey and Egypt.
In December, Majid Al Futtaim, a Dubai-based shopping centre group, stated it would extend its Vox circuit into Saudi Arabia. In addition, Large format operator IMAX is also discussing ties with several cinema circuits in the Kingdom. IMAX already has one screen in the country since 2005, at the Sultan Bin Abdulaziz Science and Technology Centre which has been allowed to play educational films.
The Saudi government estimates that the lift will bring 300 new cinemas with 2,000 screens by 2030, five times the number of screens currently in neighbouring UAE which generated $208m in box office last years, according to data by IHS Markit. This will work towards the target to lift household spending on entertainment in Saudi Arabia from 2.9% to 6.0% of GDP by 2030. In addition, the country has a high proportion of younger people, with around 70% of the population said to be in this category.
For the moment, and until the first cinemas open which could be as early as next month or sites that require minimal conversion, cinema screenings are happening on temporary screens in venues such as cultural centres. Amongst the first films to be screened after the 35 year ban were The Emoji Movie and Captain Underpants: the First Epic Movie.