International cinema chains eye huge opportunities in Saudi Arabia

Saudis attend the "Short Film Competition 2" festival on October 20, 2017, at King Fahad Culture Center in Riyadh. (AFP)
Updated 13 December 2017

International cinema chains eye huge opportunities in Saudi Arabia

LONDON: International and Middle Eastern cinema chains are eager to expand into Saudi Arabia following the Kingdom’s decision to allow movie theaters to operate from early 2018.
It will be the first time in 35 years that cinemas have been permitted to open in the Kingdom, and is a move likely to open up a whole new audience of cinema-goers hungry to watch the latest blockbusters without having to drive or fly to Dubai or Bahrain.
Novo Cinemas, which has 152 screens across the UAE and Bahrain, is one of the regional chains watching developments in the Kingdom with interest.
“Novo Cinemas are currently expanding everywhere. We have received several requests from KSA and are currently studying a number of these options,” Debbie Stanford-Kristiansen, chief executive at Novo Cinemas, told Arab News.
“These are dynamic and exciting times for KSA, the region and our industry,” she said.
Vox Cinemas, which is part of the Dubai-based Majid Al-Futtaim group, has also welcomed Saudi Arabia’s decision, and a spokeperson confirmed to Arab News that the cinema chain was “in talks to introduce our Vox Cinemas brand” to the Kingdom.
“We are highly committed to the people of Saudi Arabia and would welcome an opportunity to be part of this exciting development if given the opportunity,” the spokesperson told Arab News.
Vox cinemas has 284 screens across the whole Middle East region, including UAE, Lebanon, Oman, Egypt, Bahrain and Qatar.
In the UK, the cinema chain Vue is also exploring opportunities in the Kingdom.
According to reports In October by the UK newspaper, The Times, the company was invited to a Riyadh investment conference to pitch its idea for a chain of theaters in the Kingdom.
Commenting on the lifting of the ban, a Vue spokesperson told Arab News: “This is an exciting moment in the history of cinema, which has been an important medium for out of home entertainment for over 100 years.
“We are continually exploring new and attractive high-growth markets and this could be a significant opportunity for Vue. They have some incredible plans in place and we look forward to continuing our conversations in the region,” the spokesperson said.
Vue currently has 87 cinemas, with 843 screens across the UK and Ireland.
Last month, local media reported that the US-headquartered AMC Entertainment was potentially interested in operating in the Kingdom if the ban was lifted, citing comments made by AMC’s CEO Adam Aron at the MiSK Global Forum in Riyadh held in November.
The Saudi government will start issuing licenses for cinemas early next year, with the first theaters to open in March 2018, according to a statement from minister of culture and information, Awwad Al-Awwad issued on Dec. 11.

The lifting of the cinema ban is expected to bolster the Saudi Arabian economy, generate jobs, and help develop industries outside of the oil sector. It is one of a number of economic and social reforms, including the decision earlier this year to allow women to drive from June 2018.
“This marks a watershed moment in the development of the cultural economy in the Kingdom,” Al-Awwad said in a statement.
“Opening cinemas will act as a catalyst for economic growth and diversification; by developing the broader cultural sector we will create new employment and training opportunities, as well as enriching the Kingdom’s entertainment options.”
By 2030, Saudi Arabia is expected to be home to more than 300 cinemas, according to the government.

Road song: Saudi singer-songwriter Tamtam releases music video ahead of historic end to driving ban

Updated 1 min 47 sec ago

Road song: Saudi singer-songwriter Tamtam releases music video ahead of historic end to driving ban

  • Singer-songwriter Tamtam has released a music video to coincide with the day her fellow countrywomen make history
  • In an exclusive interview with Arab News, the LA-based musician said she hopes the song inspires women to see that with patience and perseverance anything can happen. 

JEDDAH: With the long-awaited day when Saudi women can finally drive drawing near, a Saudi singer-songwriter based in Los Angeles has written a song to mark the historic occasion.

Called simply “Drive,” Tamtam’s take on the breakthrough reform covers a range of emotions: Happiness, pride and even surprise.

Millions around the world shared the news that Saudi women would be allowed to drive when it was announced last fall, and with all the preparations taking place, the singer wanted to take part in the best way she could. So she wrote the lyrics to a song that mirrored the exciting events ahead.

Tamtam’s release focuses on the themes of freedom, equality and empowerment that she has explored in her music since the start of her career in 2012.

In an exclusive interview with Arab News, the LA-based musician said she hopes the song inspires women to see that with patience and perseverance anything can happen. 

“If I had to use one word to describe the feeling, it would be hope. Women in Saudi are ready to have a bigger voice and become more independent.

“This is a huge step forward for all of us. The country is showing us that they know we are ready, and they are here to support us and help launch us forward,” said Tamtam. 

Her song’s lyrics include the words: “We know what we want, we know it’s our time, let go of past perceptions, tomorrow is mine, we got drive” — suggesting that it’s time to look forward and stop looking back at what once was.

The verse mirrors the narrative many Saudis are sharing with the world, empowered by the dramatic changes Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman is accomplishing with Vision 2030 and beyond. 

Tamtam, inspired by the late Michael Jackson, started singing aged 15. She wrote her first single, “Little Girl,” while attending high school in California after her family moved to the US from Riyadh. Her singing and songwriting have been influenced by events around her, always related to current issues with a twist of optimism. 

Whether it’s her strong vocals or hauntingly beautiful voice, Tamtam’s music transcends expectations. This young Saudi is singing and making a name for herself in the City of Angels, and her positive energy is reflected in her music.

As Saudis embrace a host of reforms, Tamtam believes many Westerners are shocked by the news. Yet people forget that Saudi is a relatively young country and more good changes will come, she said. 

“With hope comes more aspirations, dreams, new achievements and positive energy.”

The “Drive” video is uplifting, with playful, artistic imagery, and soulful and empowering vocals. The singer and her friends wear white, representing peace and femininity, and drive a yellow Ford Mustang convertible (Tamtam’s dream car). 

“Whenever I’m in a car, especially if there is traffic or it’s a long drive, I always turn on music to put me in a better mood. Driving is so much more enjoyable with music,” said Tamtam. “I hope that this song will be blasting through car speakers everywhere.” 

So the question is: Will Tamtam get her Saudi license, too?

“Yes, I can’t wait,” is the answer, obviously.