UK eyes chance to help Saudi Arabia’s fledgling entertainment industry

The revival of commercial cinemas comes as Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman — who is currently visiting the UK — spearheads efforts to return the Kingdom to a more ‘moderate Islam.’
Updated 08 March 2018
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UK eyes chance to help Saudi Arabia’s fledgling entertainment industry

LONDON: Saudi Arabia’s decision to lift the 35-year ban on cinemas last December has opened up opportunities for UK companies to help the Kingdom develop its entertainment industry.
“This is a very exciting time for both Saudi Arabia and the cinema industry and we see huge potential for the development of entertainment centers with the big-screen experience across the country,” said a spokesperson for Vue International. The cinema chain, which has its headquarters in the UK, was one of the first operators to move into the new sector.
The company signed a deal with local partner Abdulmohsin Al Hokair Holding Group on Feb. 12 and plans to open up to 30 multiplexes within three years. It was the was only operator invited to the Future Investment Initiative, held in Riyadh, last October and talks on a deal have been ongoing ever since.
US cinema chain AMC Entertainment signed a deal at the end of last year to form a joint venture with Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund to open cinemas in the Kingdom.
Other UK cinema chains are likely to monitor developments closely. “This is not something everyone can provide but there is bound to be interest from a number of entertainment companies were entering the Saudi market is appropriate to their strategies and international intentions,” said Vue’s spokesperson.
Chris Innes-Hopkins, executive director at the Saudi British Joint Business Council UK, told Arab News he has seen renewed interest from UK cinema chains.

“We have received a number of enquires for cinema operators. We are also working with the UK’s Department of International Trade on plans to promote the opportunities,” he said.
UK companies will have to compete with regional operators, and Vox Cinemas, part of the Dubai-based Majid Al-Futtaim group, who are keen to expand into Saudi Arabia. Novo Cinemas, with 152 screens in the UAE and Bahrain, has also expressed interest.
The revival of commercial cinemas comes as Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman — who is currently visiting the UK — spearheads efforts to return the Kingdom to a more “moderate Islam.”
Last September, a decree was issued to lift the ban on women driving, while this January women were allowed to attend football matches for the first time.
Cinema visiting is expected to boost the Kingdom’s economy, helping to realize Vision 2030 plans to move beyond relying on oil.
The government’s economic strategy set out to increase household spending on cultural and entertainment activities from 2.9 percent to 6 percent.
The plan will also support cultural events and the creation of cultural venues such as libraries and museums, another sector where UK companies could find work.
There are “considerable opportunities” in the cultural heritage sectors, said Innes-Hopkins. “A number of UK companies, such as Cultural Innovations, have already worked with the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage on museum development and restoration of historical sites,” he added.
Cultural Innovations is a London-based consultancy that has delivered museum and heritage projects across the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia.
“No doubt there will also be considerable interest in plans for theme parks and tourism development. Virgin Group have already shown an interest,” he added.
Richard Branson, head of the UK’s Virgin Group, was enthusiastic about tourism options at the Future Investment Initiative conference in Riyadh last year, where he signed a $1 billion (SR 3.8 billion) deal with Saudi’s Public Investment Fund to invest in the Red Sea Resort project to develop a number of islands into luxury resorts.
UK-based firm Paragon Creative is another company that has worked on museums and theme parks in the region, and is eager to explore further opportunities in Saudi Arabia.
The company designs, builds and installs museum exhibits and theme park sets and has recently been working in Dubai on creating props and scenery for the new Hollywood movie-themed Motiongate theme park within Dubai Park and Resorts. The company works closely with Dubai-based partner PCME.
It is currently active working on the interiors of the “Life Gallery” at King Salman Science Oasis in Riyadh for Sabic (Saudi Basic Industries Corporation).
“I believe that the UAE is becoming a saturated market for attractions and leisure and Saudi Arabia is the next destination UK companies should focus on,” said Mark Pyrah, the company’s development director and founder.
“We have seen a 300 percent increase in opportunities over the past 12 months, but there has been a 50 percent fall in the UAE market,” he said.


Pitbull and Akon wow crowds at Saudi Arabia’s Asharqiah Music Festival

Updated 59 min 15 sec ago
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Pitbull and Akon wow crowds at Saudi Arabia’s Asharqiah Music Festival

  • Earlier on Friday, planes raced over the waters of the Dammam Corniche, thrilling the crowd who had gathered to see the Red Bull Race
  • Although not the actual championship itself, the demonstration did not disappoint, with pilots pulling their aircraft through barrel rolls and high G-force turns along a floating obstacle course

DAMMAM: Week two of Sharqiah Season started with a bang as US rapper Pitbull performed at Dammam’s Life Park as part of the Asharqiah Music Festival on Friday afternoon.
Although his Thursday night concert was canceled, fans were certainly not disappointed when he took the stage at 4 p.m. An energy-filled Pitbull hyped-up the crowd in minutes, and soon enough everyone was singing along to some of his most famous songs, including “Taxi,” “Timber,” “On The Floor” and more.
The rapper even teased a short sample of his newest song, “Cinco de Mayo,” leading the crowd in the opening chant before launching into the song’s intro.
He thanked his fans multiple times for their understanding over the delay of the concert, telling them how happy he was to have made it.
“I want you to be able to tell people, ‘I went to a Pitbull concert, and I had the time of my life, Saudi Arabia!’” he shouted, before launching into a rendition of “Time of Our Lives.”


Fireworks, confetti and a wildly enthusiastic audience made for a memorable experience.
Arab News caught up with Pitbull backstage after the show. When asked if he had something to say to his fans, he replied: “To everyone in Saudi I wanna say thank you for the love, I appreciate the opportunity. Great crowd, great energy.”
The performance was hastily rescheduled due to the rapper’s delay in Iceland on his way to Saudi Arabia for the festival.
Due to technical difficulties, his plane was grounded and unable to fly until a spare part was delivered from the US, causing him to miss the initial date.
Pitbull posted an apology video on Twitter, in which he promised fans an unforgettable experience at the rescheduled show. “Make sure you keep your tickets,” he told his fans.
Safa Hukrdoh, from Dammam, said she would have preferred to experience the concert at night, but had no complaints. “I think it was amazing. I have been to other concerts outside (of Saudi Arabia), but this is the first time inside.”
The festivities at Life Park continue today as Akon, French Montana and Amr Diab all take the stage for the second evening of the Asharqiah Music Festival.

It is one of 83 events planned for the Sharqiah Season, the first of 11 Saudi Seasons taking place across the country in 2019.
Earlier on Friday, planes raced over the waters of the Dammam Corniche, thrilling the crowd who had gathered to see the Red Bull Race. Although not the actual championship itself, the demonstration did not disappoint, with pilots pulling their aircraft through barrel rolls and high G-force turns along a floating obstacle course.
“It’s been a nice day for the family,” said Mohammed Saleh Al-Ghamdi, who had come out with his wife, his mother-in-law and his three children. “We come here every weekend, and every weekend there is a new surprise waiting.
“This time it is these air races, which my son, Hussam, found really exciting. We all had our photos taken with the planes and ate hamburgers, and now we are going to have some ice cream before the next plane comes out to perform.”
Sharqiah Season is the first of 11 cultural events organized by the General Entertainment Authority, the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage, The General Sports Authority and General Culture Authority.
The initiative falls in line with Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 program, which aims to improve the quality of life in the Kingdom by providing enriching cultural pursuits and shows. The 83 activities planned for the festival, which is being held in 9 different cities, feature entertainment, educational activities, sports events and culture.
Sharqiah Season continues until March 30, with the weekends ahead also featuring the Formula 1 H20 boat race, as well as concerts in Dammam featuring Deadmau5 among others.