AMC Saudi Arabia CEO upbeat about cinema prospects amid-COVID-19

John Iozzi
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Updated 29 September 2020

AMC Saudi Arabia CEO upbeat about cinema prospects amid-COVID-19

  • ‘We can’t control the virus, but we can control and certainly minimize any type of infection within our four walls,’ John Iozzi tells Arab News

DUBAI: In 2018, Saudi Arabia opened its first cinema in more than 35 years with a private screening of “Black Panther,” granting AMC the first license in the Kingdom to operate movie theaters.

At the time, the US giant announced that it planned to open 100 cinemas by 2030 across the Kingdom.

This plan is still on track, said John Iozzi, CEO and managing director of AMC Cinemas in Saudi Arabia.

He took the reins of the Saudi operation early last year, moving from Australia to the Kingdom.

When offered the role, “the first thing that went through my mind was what a wonderful opportunity to join a part of the industry that’s at sunrise stage,” he told Arab News.

There are five AMC cinemas open in the Kingdom, with plans for three more to be opened through 2020.

Despite people spending the better part of 2020 at home, AMC has opened three cinemas this year alone, with one cinema each being opened in 2018 and 2019.

Iozzi chalks this down to the teething process of setting up a cinema business in a country that does not have the pre-existing infrastructure.

The first cinema, in King Abdullah Financial District, “was perhaps a symbolic gesture of the commitment to cinema in the Kingdom,” he said. The venue already existed, so it was relatively quick and easy to set up.

“From there, we morphed to the more traditional model of cinemas that are attached to activity centers (such as) shopping malls, and Panorama Mall was the first of these,” he said.

It is a multi-staged and complex process, from leasing and certification to design and construction, which requires sourcing of materials, contractors and consultants either from within or outside the territory.

“So in these first years, there isn’t going to be that same level of speed and efficiency that’s coming from the learnings from the evolution of the ecosystem,” Iozzi said. “As they say, success builds success and size builds size and stock sells stock.”

The initial learning steps followed by COVID-19 slowed down AMC’s plans, pushing sites that were scheduled to open this year to 2021.

COVID-19 “effectively placed various types of limitations, closures and other types of restrictions on building across a three-to-four-month period that really did slow us down a lot,” he said.

Even though AMC reopened its cinemas in early July, it is a slow recovery. “The impact was 100 percent back then,” he said.

Since then, cinemas are allowed to only sell 50 percent of their capacity. There are also distancing requirements between seats and at points of sale, such as cash registers and food counters, which add further complexity.

Moreover, the time between screenings is extended to ensure proper sanitization, which includes a partnership with Clorox. At this point, depending on the week, attendance ranges from 20 to 35 percent, said Iozzi.

“Given that we can only sell half the tickets we originally had, we’re relatively happy with how the public has responded,” he added.

He is aware that guests will be reticent, even afraid, to step out, but he is relying on those who have visited an AMC cinema to spread the word and inspire confidence.

“We can’t control the virus, but we can control and certainly minimize any type of infection within our four walls,” Iozzi said.

The pandemic’s effect on cinema is not limited to audience attendance. The bigger concern is content, with several big-budget movies such as the “Avatar” sequels, “The Batman” and “The Matrix 4,” among others, halting their production schedule or delaying it.

“I won’t deny that that won’t affect our revenue-raising prospects,” Iozzi said. “I think for us it’s about trying to equate supply with demand as much as possible so that we’re not giving out too many sessions that no one’s coming to.”

He said AMC is now looking beyond the “Hollywood formula” to different film industries such as those in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, as well as specialty products for Filipino, Indian and Pakistani audiences — a significant portion of the company’s audience base in major cities.

AMC is also looking beyond film to concerts, sports and gaming. “They’re never going to be a perfect substitute, but in terms of differentiation and getting some use for our assets, it does help,” Iozzi said.

Although consumption of streaming services has increased, he is not particularly concerned about its negative impact, if any, on cinema-going.

He believes that cinemas are like restaurants — everyone has a kitchen at home, but they are frequently eating out or ordering in.

“We’ve based our offering around this premise that people look for the social aspect of being out — the event experience … the superior seats, the superior sounds, the superior vision and screen, and the magic of being in the movies that cinema exhibition brings,” Iozzi said.

Moreover, he added, the shopping-mall infrastructure in Saudi Arabia has always been well patronized — malls are seen as safe, enjoyable, family-oriented places to spend time, and cinema fits well with that.

Iozzi acknowledges that a vaccine or any treatment for COVID-19 would be helpful, but that is out of AMC’s hands. “We make the best of the situation until that point,” he said.

Publicis Groupe veteran Kamal Dimachkie leaves as new successor is named

Updated 20 October 2020

Publicis Groupe veteran Kamal Dimachkie leaves as new successor is named

  • Dimachkie’s career spans three decades of leadership and accomplishment in international and regional markets
  • Shoueiry founded the agency’s Social Content Lab and played a key role in cultivating digital design thinking across the region

RIYADH: Publicis Groupe MEA today announced the departure of Kamal Dimachkie, chief operating officer, Publicis Communications, UAE and Lower Gulf. Dimachkie is a senior executive who joined Leo Burnett in February 1985. The company has appointed Samer Shoueiry to assume the role in conjunction with his current responsibilities as chief digital officer, Publicis Communications, Middle East from Dec. 1. Dimachkie’s decision to leave comes after 33 years with the company. He will leave his current position on Dec. 31 and continue to act in a consultative capacity until June 2021 in order to ensure a smooth transition.

Dimachkie’s career spans three decades of leadership and accomplishment in international and regional markets including the US, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait and the UAE.

Raja Trad, executive chairman at Publicis Groupe MEA said: “I respect Kamal’s decision. He has been a friend and a colleague for over three decades, and not just I but the entire Publicis Groupe family will miss him. His tenure at the Groupe has been characterized by a clear commitment to values that are central to our philosophy. Kamal’s adept leadership propelled the agency to new heights — we won more than 250 accolades and added numerous international and local clients to our roster. I want to thank him for his immeasurable contribution to the Groupe and wish him all the best for his professional future.”

Dimachkie added: “Leo Burnett and Publicis Groupe have been my life for the past 33 years, and I am proud to have been a part of a glorious journey during which I have had the opportunity to serve the company in different roles in six countries, to have contributed to numerous clients and raised the bar internally and within the industry. Part of this has been the joy of working with a wonderful team and leadership, whom I have partnered with, learnt from and shall forever call my friends and brothers in arms. I am grateful to have lived the glory days of advertising with one of the best agencies in the world and to have worked with some of the most inspiring and creative people. I look forward to working with Samer on the upcoming transition and wish him success in his new role.”

Shoueiry, who will take on Dimachkie’s role, has over 21 years of experience across business, design and innovation. He has consistently delivered a robust performance in Publicis’ Experience Design and Experience Strategy, founded the agency’s Social Content Lab and played a key role in cultivating digital design thinking across the region.

Commenting on his appointment, Trad said: “Samer has a record of leadership and value creation, deep experience in generating groundbreaking brand experiences, as well as a focus on strategic design, innovation excellence and a strong technological footing. I look forward to continuing to work closely with him to drive our digital transformation in the region and support the spread of innovation through investments in our people, technology, platforms and tools. Together, we will ensure that we continue to move our business forward in the Connected Age through a data-led, digital-first approach.”

Shoueiry further added: “Kamal has built a strong foundation for future growth, including strengthening our team and expanding our scope of work. The current climate has accelerated digital transformation globally, and we are looking at a future where online and offline coexist to augment consumer experience in an interconnected brand universe. E-commerce is a necessity, digital equities are your flagship stores, search and social your new outdoor. With this new beginning, I will focus on further strengthening our creative strategy-to-results development to offer the best consumer-centric experiences and build brand value.”