Leading Middle East exhibitor, Vox Cinemas, is planning to open over 100 screens by year end 2019 in Saudi Arabia, underlining the strong growth potential in this newly opened-up cinema territory. Vox will open a total of 110 screens this year as part of a longer-term growth strategy in the Kingdom comprising 600 screens in 10 Saudi cities over the next five years (2023).
Vox’s first multiplex in the territory opened in April 2018 in Riyadh with five screens, followed by its second in January 2019, the Jeddah Red Sea Mall housing 12 screens including an Imax with Laser screen. As well as Riyadh and Jeddah, other cities targeted by Vox for investment include Damman, Taif and Tabuk.
Following the removal of the 35 year ban for public film screenings, there has been large appetite to tap into the growth potential from a large number of exhibitors both regional and international in operations.
The Kingdom has now awarded licences to four cinema operators in AMC, Vox, Lux Entertainment and Empire Cinemas.
- The first cinema licence was awarded to US exhibitor, AMC, owner of Odeon UCI in Europe, which signed a non-binding memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund. AMC was also the first to open a cinema in the territory and has made public plans to reach 40 cinemas in 15 Saudi cities, although so far there is only the initial site.
- Vox, a subsidiary of Majid Al-Futtaim, was awarded the second licence in April 2018 and opened its first multiplex shortly after.
- The third licence was awarded to the Al-Rasheed United Group consortium with Empire Cinemas in September 2018. The group have plans for up to 30 cinemas.
- The fourth licence was awarded to Lux Entertainment in August 2018, a partnership between Al-Hokair Group for Tourism and Development, Cinépolis and Al Tayer Group. Lux has targeted a total of 300 screens in 15 cities.
With four confirmed licences awarded, there are also other exhibitors making plans to enter the territory. In Q4 2018, Indian exhibition group Carnival Cinemas announced plans to open 500 screens in more remote areas of the Kingdom. It has so far been given a distribution licence and was reportedly working to secure an operational licence.
Other companies with signed agreements include UK cinema group Vue International and fellow regional group Kuwait National Cinema (KNCC). KNCC wanted to build three cinemas with 27 screens by end 2018, as 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 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.
According to IHS Markit, there were three cinemas in Saudi Arabia at end 2018, although with more cinemas opening up in Q1 2019 and Vox Cinemas currently having the momentum in terms of new screens.
The opening up of the cinema market is also occurring in tandem with the opening up of the wider entertainment market. The Kingdom has also announced that restaurants and cafes will be able to apply for licences for hosting comedy or musical shows, for example.