2022 Look Ahead: Saudi Arabia’s booming entertainment sector is just getting started

2022 Look Ahead: Saudi Arabia’s booming entertainment sector is just getting started
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Updated 01 January 2022

2022 Look Ahead: Saudi Arabia’s booming entertainment sector is just getting started

2022 Look Ahead: Saudi Arabia’s booming entertainment sector is just getting started
  • Many Saudis are experiencing home-grown arts, culture and sporting events for the first time ever 
  • After the delays and closures of the pandemic, the entertainment calendar is packed once more 

RIYADH: For around 30 years, entertainment venues, from cinemas to concert halls, were bolted shut across Saudi Arabia, depriving citizens and visitors of outlets to enjoy cultural, sporting and artistic activities in public 

All that began to change in 2016 with the establishment of the General Entertainment Authority as part of the Kingdom’s wide-ranging social and economic reform agenda, Vision 2030.

Five years on, the thirst for entertainment in Saudi Arabia is plain to see. In the space of just two months, up to 8 million people have taken part in Riyadh Season 2021 — a cultural extravaganza that was unheard of just half a decade ago.




Boys wave national flags during celebrations in Riyadh marking Saudi Arabia's National Day on Sept. 23, 2020. (AFP)

The General Entertainment Authority was established to help drive ahead the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 plan to diversify the Saudi economy away from oil, allowing it to become a global leader in the creative, leisure, tourism and hi-tech industries.

Now, Saudi citizens and international visitors, no matter their level of income, can enjoy a whole host of entertainment options previously denied to them, improving their quality of life and the Kingdom’s appeal as a work and investment destination.




Entrepreneurs offer camel rides in AlUla. (AN file photo)

Within just five years, the GEA has issued 2,189 licenses and 1,809 permits allowing more than 2,500 companies to launch home-grown entertainment ventures. The sector has already created more than $1 billion in profits and attracted over 75 million visitors.

Although Saudi Arabia’s entertainment revolution suffered setbacks in 2020 at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, with events suspended, venues closed, and international travel barred for several months, the cultural calendar returned with a bang in 2021. Much is still to come.




Saudi fans mob a wrestling star during a WWE event in Jeddah. (Supplied)

For a whole generation of young Saudis, this will be another year of firsts.

Until the late 1980s, Saudi cities enjoyed a flourishing artistic movement that offered the public a wide variety of entertainment options. However, this came to an end in the early 1990s.




Saudi fans attend the "MDL Beast Fest", an electronic music festival, held in Banban on the outskirts of the Saudi capital Riyadh on Dec. 19, 2019. (AFP file)

For a time, just two music festivals took place per year — one at the Muftaha Theater in Abha, and another at Jeddah’s Summer Concerts — until these too were stopped. The last open concert in Riyadh took place in 1992 during Al-Janadriyah festival.

FASTFACTS

2016 General Entertainment Authority established.

2017 First public concerts in nearly three decades.

2018 35-year ban on public cinemas finally lifted.

2018 Kingdom’s first ever Diriyah E-Prix.

2019 Launch of Saudi Seasons initiative.

The silence was broken in March 2017 with the Kingdom’s first public concert in nearly three decades. Although attendance was limited to men only, tickets for the performance by Saudi artists Mohammed Abdu and Rashid Al-Majed sold out immediately.




The Cairo Opera House's National Arab Music Ensemble (AME) perform at the King Fahd Cultural Centre in Riyadh on April 25, 2018. (AFP)

Later that year, Saudi Arabia hosted its first public performance by a female artist. Lebanese singer Heba Tawaji performed on stage at the King Fahd Cultural Center in Riyadh to an exclusively female audience of 3,000.

During the same year, Greek composer and pianist Yanni performed in Riyadh, Jeddah and Dammam. In a tweet before his arrival in Saudi Arabia, he said: “We are going to be experiencing history in the making and I would not miss it for anything in the world! First stop Jeddah! ...Yanni.”




Participants at work during the Formula E race in Diriyah, Riyadh. (AFP)

The following year saw the launch of Ad Diriyah concerts, with several performances held on the sidelines of the Kingdom’s biggest event — the Formula E race in Diriyah — including an unforgettable show by French DJ David Guetta.

“That concert was magical. I loved every second of it,” music fan Eithar Alshadukhi told Arab News at the time. “David Guetta’s songs are amazing, but when he created a special piece for Saudi Arabia, it blew me away.”




Mariah Carey performing in Jeddah in 2019. (AN file photo)

In 2019, American singer-songwriter Mariah Carey performed in Jeddah, making her the highest-profile international artist to perform in the Kingdom since the easing of restrictions on entertainment.

During the same year, K-Pop boy band BTS became the first foreign artists to play a solo stadium show in Saudi Arabia before an audience of over 60,000 at the King Fahd International Stadium.




Music concerts blossomed in Saudi Arabia since 2016. (Supplied)

Music concerts are not the only field of entertainment that has blossomed in Saudi Arabia since 2016. Intensely proud of its heritage and natural beauty, the Kingdom has invested heavily in promoting leisure and tourism activities in its coastal, mountain and desert regions.

In the process, Saudi Arabia has broken several Guinness World Records, including a 2020 record for the largest hot air balloon glow show over the ancient city of AlUla, with 100 balloons spread across 3 km of sky.




Hot air balloon festival in the ancient city of AlUla. (Supplied)

Saudi Arabia’s Riyadh Season 2021 also received two Guinness World Record certificates for “Avalanche.” With 24 lanes reaching a record height of more than 22 meters, it was recognized as both the world’s tallest fun slide and the one with the most lanes.

INNUMBERS

2,500 Companies licensed by General Entertainment Authority.

$1bn Saudi entertainment industry profits over past 5 years.

75m Visitors to recent Saudi-hosted events and activities.

Another area of entertainment that has boomed over the past five years is the film industry. In 2018, the 35-year ban on public cinemas was finally lifted, spurring the growth of a domestic market and the opening of “Movi” — the first nationally owned and operated cinema in Saudi Arabia — first in Jeddah then throughout the Kingdom.




The lifting in 2018 of a 35-year ban on public cinemas has spurred the growth of a domestic market and the opening of “Movi”. (Supplied)

In 2019, the Red Sea International Film Festival was launched, bringing together Saudi and international filmmakers, actors, and industry professionals to celebrate cinema and the world’s greatest on-screen talent.

The festival’s ambitious mandate is to develop and promote the film industry in Saudi Arabia, discover raw regional talent, and support a new wave of cinema worldwide.




The opening of the Kingdom's entertainment industry has spurred interest in filmmaking and acting. (File photo)

To preserve and promote Saudi Arabia’s rich and unique culture, while also boosting the domestic and international tourism market, the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage launched the Saudi Seasons initiative in 2019 to high acclaim.

Festivals have taken place in Riyadh, Jeddah, Eastern Province, Taif, AlUla, Ad Diriyah, and elsewhere, celebrating the Kingdom’s diverse local crafts and traditions, while also creating jobs for young Saudis.




Hundreds of resorts have sprung up across Saudi Arabia since the Kingdom opened its tourism industry a few years back. (SPA)

Tourism is one area Saudi Arabia is especially eager to promote with the launch of its Saudi e-visa in 2019. The Kingdom expects to have hosted 100 million tourists by 2030, drawn by a mixture of new luxury resorts on its coastline, educational outings among its spectacular ancient ruins, and adventure activities in its vast deserts and lush mountains.

So much has already been achieved in the Kingdom’s leisure and entertainment industries since reforms began just five years ago. No doubt 2022 will be another year of firsts on the road to 2030.


Resident injured in Houthi ballistic missile attack on industrial area in Ahad Al-Masarihah, Jazan

Resident injured in Houthi ballistic missile attack on industrial area in Ahad Al-Masarihah, Jazan
Updated 1 min 43 sec ago

Resident injured in Houthi ballistic missile attack on industrial area in Ahad Al-Masarihah, Jazan

Resident injured in Houthi ballistic missile attack on industrial area in Ahad Al-Masarihah, Jazan
  • Coalition said this was third Houthi attempt to target civilians of different nationalities in the industrial area
  • The “vicious and brutal attack” would be dealt with firmly, the coalition added

RIYADH: A resident sustained minor injuries after the Houthis fired a ballistic missile that fell in the industrial area of Ahad Al-Masarihah, Jazan, the coalition said on Sunday.

The Coalition to Restore Legitimacy in Yemen said this was the third Houthi attempt to target civilians of different nationalities in the industrial area situated in the Kingdom’s south western region.

The coalition said the “vicious and brutal attack” would be dealt with firmly.

Earlier, Yemen's defense ministry said it had received “shocking” information about the Houthi militia executing its fighters who had withdrawn from combat and refused to fight.

“We have given directions to our units to receive the retreating Houthi fighters,” the ministry said.

It promised safety and good treatment to withdrawing Houthi fighters “in accordance with international legitimacy, norms, and laws.”

“Those who have withdrawn are guests whom we will receive, and we will provide them with all help, support, and assistance to return to their areas when they wish,” the ministry said.


Saudi statistics authority prepares for fifth national census

GASTAT recently started working on a 40-day electronic business statistics survey, which aims to provide accurate statistical data. (Twitter: @Stats_Saudi)
GASTAT recently started working on a 40-day electronic business statistics survey, which aims to provide accurate statistical data. (Twitter: @Stats_Saudi)
Updated 14 min 12 sec ago

Saudi statistics authority prepares for fifth national census

GASTAT recently started working on a 40-day electronic business statistics survey, which aims to provide accurate statistical data. (Twitter: @Stats_Saudi)
  • Satellite imagery to ensure comprehensive coverage of Kingdom’s regions

JEDDAH: The Saudi General Authority for Statistics is preparing to carry out the country’s fifth housing and population census, including the use of satellite imagery to help ensure more comprehensive coverage of the Kingdom’s regions.

The census plays a key role in achieving the goals for the country’s economic and social transformation, as outlined in Vision 2030.

A preliminary estimate of the Saudi population as of mid-2020 was 35,013,414. The previous census processes took place in 1974, 1992, 2004, and 2010.

The last survey showed that the country’s population was 27,136,977, with more than 6,915,000 people in the Makkah region, the highest of the country’s 13 administrative regions.

GASTAT said it had prepared a plan for its upcoming census after a comprehensive study of the requirements of its beneficiaries from government agencies, and based on global best practices and standards for population census models used in G20 countries as well as by members of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

FASTFACT

35 million

A preliminary estimate of the Saudi population as of mid-2020 was 35,013,414.

The authority said that modern technology would be used for the first time in conducting its census operations, including the use of satellite imagery to help ensure more comprehensive coverage of the Kingdom’s regions, identifying unregistered dwellings at national addresses, and developing a data collection mechanism to include digital self-enumeration, a new method of collecting data through the authority’s publicly accessible portal, as well as updating the census form to assist decision-makers, according to international best practices.

GASTAT said it was fully committed to the highest levels of privacy, confidentiality, and protection for the data of those included in the census, and any personal information related to their identities. It also undertook not to share any collected information with or disclose it to any third party.

Last September, GASTAT carried out a pilot census covering seven Saudi cities in Tabuk, AlUla, Makkah, Asir, Diriyah, Riyadh, and the Eastern Province. It was meant to test the form along with the working tools to be used in the general population and housing census.

Self-enumeration, electronically filling out questionnaires, and other statistical methods were also applied before the final census work, which is expected to begin in a few months.

GASTAT recently started working on a 40-day electronic business statistics survey, which aims to provide accurate statistical data and indicators on establishments that carry out various economic activities in Saudi Arabia.

It said the survey was done in coordination with government bodies and that the questionnaires were based on specific statistical criteria to assure accurate statistical data and indicators.

The pilot census also included the numbering of buildings, along with their components of housing units and households, in addition to counting the population and individuals in labor camps and public housing, and identifying their demographic, social, and economic characteristics, to obtain accurate and timely results.

GASTAT said it was the only official statistical reference for statistical data and information in the Kingdom.

It added that it implemented all statistical work and technical supervision of the sector, which included an ecosystem of statistical centers and units established in the administrative structures of government agencies and several private sector institutions.

Most countries conduct a comprehensive census of their population, housing, and establishments every 10 years to provide accurate and detailed data about the population and its distribution according to their place of residence, their social and economic characteristics, such as the educational level and educational qualifications obtained, the economic status of individuals, the professions practiced by workers, the type of economic sector to which they belong, and the economic activity of the entities in which they work.

 


Who’s Who: Munir bin Mahmoud El-Desouki, president of King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology

Munir bin Mahmoud El-Desouki. (Supplied)
Munir bin Mahmoud El-Desouki. (Supplied)
Updated 14 sec ago

Who’s Who: Munir bin Mahmoud El-Desouki, president of King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology

Munir bin Mahmoud El-Desouki. (Supplied)

Munir bin Mahmoud El-Desouki was recently appointed president of King Abdulaziz City for Science and Technology by royal decree.
He had previously served as acting president of KACST since April 2021.
El-Desouki supervised the founding team of the Research, Development and Innovation Authority. He has also been an adviser to the authority’s chairman since July 2021.
Before than, El-Desouki served as assistant minister at the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology. He also worked as deputy minister for development and planning in the same ministry, and as senior adviser to the minister.
He gained a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from the King Fahd University of Petroleum and Minerals in 2002. He also received a master’s degree in electrical and computer engineering from McMaster University, Canada, in 2005.
Two years later, he completed a master’s degree in engineering entrepreneurship and innovation from McMaster University.
In 2010, he obtained a Ph.D. from the same university in electrical and computer engineering, specializing in CMOS sensors for low-level light biomedical applications and high-speed non-invasive fluorescence lifetime imaging systems.
El-Desouki has won numerous awards and prizes, including the 2014 Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques Prize for inventors and the talented for his work in electrical engineering, titled “Development through Time Integration.”
He has published more than 85 scientific papers and articles in scientific journals, and has received more than 20 patents.


Saudi foreign minister meets former German chancellor in Riyadh

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan meets former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder. (SPA)
Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan meets former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder. (SPA)
Updated 23 January 2022

Saudi foreign minister meets former German chancellor in Riyadh

Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan meets former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder. (SPA)

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan held talks with the former German Chancellor, Gerhard Schroeder, in the capital Riyadh, the Kingdom’s foreign ministry said on Sunday.
During the meeting, they “reviewed the historical and distinguished relations between the Kingdom and Germany,” and ways of developing them in different fields.
They also discussed ways of strengthening joint coordination to serve both countries, as well as regional and international developments.


Saudi Arabia's king honors former OIC chief

Saudi Arabia's king honors former OIC chief
Updated 23 January 2022

Saudi Arabia's king honors former OIC chief

Saudi Arabia's king honors former OIC chief

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s King Salman has presented Dr. Yousef Al-Othaimeen, the former secretary-general of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, the Order of King Abdulaziz of the second class, for his efforts in promoting joint Islamic action in many fields.
The sash was handed to Al-Othaimeen by Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan, in implementation of the king’s order, Saudi Press Agency reported on Sunday.
Prince Faisal held a meeting with Al-Othaimeen in Riyadh, where he praised his efforts in serving the issues of the Islamic nation at all levels, and wished him further success.