US Cinema exhibitor AMC, owned by Chinese conglomerate Wanda, has been the first operator to announce the opening of a cinema in the Kingdom since the ban on commercial cinemas was lifted in December last year. The cinema is expected to open with one screen but should have four or five in operation by the end of the summer. AMC plans to open 40 cinemas within five years and 100 by 2030, aiming to achieve a 50% market share.
This statement follows the approval of the first cinema licensing regulations in March by the Saudi government, opening the door for companies to apply for authorisations to operate cinemas.
AMC has been the first one to announce the start of operations among the companies and partnerships that intend to operate cinemas in Saudi Arabia: regional group Kuwait National Cinema Company (KNCC); UK cinema group Vue International and Riyadh-based Abdulmohsin Al-Hokair Holding Group; Dubai-based shopping center group Majid Al Futtaim, owner of Vox circuit; and Premium large format (PLF) operator IMAX.
There has been, however, another contender announced in March with America’s luxury restaurant-and-theater operator iPic, which has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with BAS Global Investments Company, a Saudi group. iPic currently operates 15 locations in the US and plans to expand the concept of luxury cinema auditoriums with in-theatre dining to Saudi Arabia.
In addition to the initiatives in the private sector, the UK and Saudi governments have signed a bilateral MoU, the world’s first, to deepen cooperation in areas such as arts, film, creative industries and entertainment among others over the next three years.
The lift of the ban to commercial cinemas was part of the wider modernisation strategy of the Saudi government entitled Vision 2030, which among other goals aims to double the spend in entertainment (as % of GDP) by 2030. As part of this plan, the government created the Public Investment Fund (PIF) with a dedicated entertainment investment company to support initiatives in this field. AMC is the first cinema company to have signed a MoU with the PIF.
It is expected that more cinema companies will announce the start of operations in the Kingdom in the coming months to trigger a penetration that the Saudi government estimates will reach 300 cinemas and 2300 screens in the next 12 years.