Exponential box-office revenue growth establishes Saudi Arabia as West Asia’s foremost cinema market

Special The first edition of the Red Sea Film Festival marked a major turning point in Saudi cinema, drawing local talent and film stars from around the world. (Red Sea Film Festival)
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The first edition of the Red Sea Film Festival marked a major turning point in Saudi cinema, drawing local talent and film stars from around the world. (Red Sea Film Festival)
Special Exponential box-office revenue growth establishes Saudi Arabia as West Asia’s foremost cinema market
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Special A picture taken on March 27, 2017 shows a general view of the opening ceremony of the 4th Saudi Film Festival held in Dammam. (AFP)
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A picture taken on March 27, 2017 shows a general view of the opening ceremony of the 4th Saudi Film Festival held in Dammam. (AFP)
Special Saudis gather at a theatre in Riyadh Park mall after its opening for the general public on April 30, 2018 in the Saudi capital. (AFP file photo)
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Saudis gather at a theatre in Riyadh Park mall after its opening for the general public on April 30, 2018 in the Saudi capital. (AFP file photo)
Special Saudi youth are driving cinema ticket sales, with admissions in 2030 expected to total 60-70 million. (Getty Images)
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Saudi youth are driving cinema ticket sales, with admissions in 2030 expected to total 60-70 million. (Getty Images)
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Updated 24 April 2022

Exponential box-office revenue growth establishes Saudi Arabia as West Asia’s foremost cinema market

Exponential box-office revenue growth establishes Saudi Arabia as West Asia’s foremost cinema market
  • Ticket sales recorded 95 percent increase in 2021 over 2020 to cross $238 million mark
  • Kingdom could have 2,600 movie screens by 2030 in an industry worth around $1.2 billion 

JEDDAH: In the four years since the resumption of movie screening across Saudi Arabia, the country has experienced an explosion of investment, filmgoing and box-office takings, establishing it as West Asia’s foremost cinema market.

Box office revenues in the MENA region as a whole are expected to grow by 4 percent compound annual rate to $1 billion between 2019 and 2024, compared with a 2.4 percent decline worldwide, according to data from market tracker Ventures ONSITE.

This regional growth is mainly due to the creation of a sizable new market following the resumption of movie screening in April 2018 after a decades-long ban. The Kingdom far outstrips its neighbors in market size, revenue per user, and growth rate.

Revenues in the Kingdom are expected to show an annual growth rate of 27.68 percent resulting in a projected market volume of $100 million by 2024, while the average revenue per user is expected to amount to $50.04.

This compares favorably with the UAE, which already has a very well-established cinema industry, where revenues are expected to show a smaller annual growth rate of 7.68 percent resulting in a projected market volume of $37 million by 2024 and an average revenue per user of $34.56.

Outside the Gulf region, market growth is forecast to be far smaller. In Egypt, revenues are expected to show an annual growth rate of 13.56 percent resulting in a projected market volume of $12 million by 2024 and an average revenue per user of $6.89.

 

 

For crisis-hit Lebanon, meanwhile, revenues are expected to show an annual growth rate of 7.58 percent resulting in a projected market volume of $4 million by 2024 and an average revenue per user of $12.21.

The lifting of the prohibition on cinema was first announced by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in 2017 as part of the Vision 2030 reform agenda, with a view to improving overall quality of life and diversifying the economy away from oil.

If the revenues alone are anything to go by, the policy shift has been a resounding success. Since cinemas officially reopened, box office sales have exceeded 30.8 million tickets, the Saudi Press Agency reported on April 18.

INNUMBERS

56 Theaters licensed in 20 cities since resumption of movie screening.

4,439 Jobs created for young Saudi men and women in the sector.

2,600 Screens expected to come up in the Kingdom by 2030.

$950m Projected box office revenue in the Kingdom in 2030.

In 2021 alone, the industry saw box office-market grow to $238 million — a 95 percent increase over the previous year’s takings of $122 million — far outstripping the UAE’s 2021 total of $130 million, according to ​​a recent report in Variety magazine.

Several analysts believe Saudi Arabia is on pace to become a billion-dollar movie market in the next few years. The professional services network PwC estimates the Kingdom’s industry could be worth $950 million in 2030.

Taking into account non-admission revenues, including advertising and concessions like food and beverages that typically comprise 35 percent of overall takings, the sector could generate $1.5 billion in 2030.

Meanwhile, the General Commission for Audiovisual Media, one of the governing authorities established to regulate and operate cinemas in the Kingdom, estimates there will be 2,600 movie screens in Saudi Arabia by 2030 in an industry worth around $1.2 billion.




Saudi men arrive at a cinema theater in Riyadh Park mall after its opening for the general public on April 30, 2018 in the Saudi capital. (AFP file photo)

According to the Film Commission, a Saudi government body affiliated with the Ministry of Culture, established in February 2020, the sector has already created jobs for 4,439 young Saudis, fulfilling a core goal of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 reform agenda.

Variety magazine confirmed in a November 2020 report, citing figures released during the META Cinema Forum exhibitors’ conference, that Saudi Arabia had overtaken the UAE to become the region’s top-grossing territory, with more than $73 million in theatrical movie ticket sales over the past 40 weeks — a roughly $2 million increase in box office returns compared with the same period in 2019.

The UAE during the same period in 2020 had generated about $51 million, roughly a quarter of its 2019 box-office takings , the magazine said.

“We believe that Saudi Arabia is the only cinema market globally to have expanded in 2020,” Cameron Mitchell, CEO of prominent Middle East exhibitor VOX Cinemas, was quoted by Variety as saying. This despite the fact that, due to the pandemic, cinemas were shuttered in the Kingdom between March and the middle of June.




Saudi youth are driving cinema ticket sales, with admissions in 2030 expected to total 60-70 million. (AFP)

Mitchell said that as a theatrical market, the Middle East in 2019 was worth $600 million, of which Saudi accounted for a $110 million share and the UAE roughly $250 million. 

Much of Saudi Arabia’s remarkable box-office success in the space of just four years is attributable to the huge investments the Kingdom has seen in the form of multiplex cinemas.

Under Vision 2030, the Kingdom aims to attract domestic and international investors, increase household spending on entertainment from 2.9 percent to 6 percent, and develop a market worth SR30 billion ($1.9 billion) in recreational services.

In April 2018, coinciding with the resumption of movie screening, the Kingdom’s Development Investment Entertainment Company opened its first cinema in the King Abdullah Financial District in Riyadh.

Since then, 56 theaters with 518 screens have been licensed in 20 cities, according to the Film Commission. In that time, 1,144 movies in 22 languages ​​from 38 countries have been shown, including 22 Saudi films.

According to a recent Variety magazine report, citing data from US marketing analysis firm Comscore, the number of multi-screen movie theaters in Saudi Arabia grew from 33 locations at the start of 2021 to 53 venues by December 2021 — an increase of 20 new locations.

With Saudi Arabia’s population forecast to be 39.5 million by 2030, analysts believe the Kingdom has the potential to absorb up to 2,600 screens.


Top 10 box office hits in Saudi Arabia, 2021

 

  • 1. “Waafet Reggaala,” Empire, $15.08 million 

  • 2. “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” Sony, $11.2 million   

  • 3. “Cruella,” Disney, $9.1 million   
  • 4. “Wrath of Man,” Eagle Films, $8.3 million   
  • 5. “Mesh Ana,” N Stars, $8.2 million 
  • 6. “No Time to Die,” Phars, $8 million 
  • 7. “Fast & Furious 9,” Universal, $7.8 million 
  • 8. “Venom: Let There Be Carnage,” Sony, $6.7 million 
  • 9. “A Quiet Place 2,” Paramount, $6.1 million 
  • 10. “Mama Hamel,” Empire, $5.9 million 

Depending on how rapidly the Kingdom’s market evolves, it could potentially generate 60 to 70 million admissions in 2030.

Saudi-owned Muvi Cinemas operates the highest number of local cinemas, followed by (Dubai-based) VOX Cinemas, US theater chain AMC, the world’s largest cinema operator, Lebanon’s Empire Cinema, and Mexican-owned Cinepolis.

Prior to the pandemic, VOX set out plans to invest $533 million in the Kingdom to open 600 screens, including at least four multiplexes in partnership with IMAX, creating 3,000 new jobs over a period of five years.

Cinepolis and Al-Tayer Group have partnered with Al-Hokair Group, while iPic Entertainment is exploring opportunities with BAS Global Investments Company to develop 25 to 30 sites over the coming decade.

Meanwhile, India’s PVR Limited is exploring options with the UAE-based Al-Futtaim Group, while CJ 4DPLEX has signed a deal with Cinemacity.

 

 

Kuwait National Cinema Company and Dubai-based distributor Front Row Filmed Entertainment expect to develop 12 multiplexes through their subsidiary Cinescape, while Al-Rashed Empire Cinema consortium has received a license to enter the Kingdom’s marketplace.

Infrastructure and investment are not the only reasons for the Saudi success story. Understanding the audience and knowing what films to screen has also been integral.

Around one third of Saudi Arabia’s total population is made up of expatriates, including 3 million Indians, concentrated in the provinces of Riyadh and Makkah.

Market analysts say a strategy that offers filmgoers a mix of Hollywood, regional, Bollywood and local content is a surefire way to pull audiences into cinemas.

To cater for such a broad array of tastes and interests, some 340 new feature films were released into Saudi cinemas in 2021 alone — up from 222 in 2020.

Of course, what Saudi officials would like to see in the coming years is homegrown movies making the top box-office rankings.

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Arab hip-hop culture takes center stage at BeatRoots in Riyadh

BeatRoots is a creative experience developed by Museland’s founder, Ali Al-Saeed. (Supplied)
BeatRoots is a creative experience developed by Museland’s founder, Ali Al-Saeed. (Supplied)
Updated 06 July 2022

Arab hip-hop culture takes center stage at BeatRoots in Riyadh

BeatRoots is a creative experience developed by Museland’s founder, Ali Al-Saeed. (Supplied)
  • Hip-hop artist and rapper Dattune told Arab News: “We already had a hip-hop culture (in the Kingdom) but we didn’t have enough spaces to either perform or connect with each other

RIYADH: The Saudi hip-hop music scene was in the spotlight at the weekend when local talent took to the stage in Riyadh at BeatRoots, a special music event that took place on Friday at AlMashtal Creative Space, in collaboration with Bahraini record label Museland.

The event, inspired by New York-style block parties, featured live performances by six Saudi and Bahraini artists, plus graffiti artists, b-boy dancing, and a market selling sneakers, street fashion and vinyl records.

AlMashtal, a creative incubator, regularly hosts collaborations with creators of various kinds, including musicians, visual artists and fashion designers. Its goal is to provide a platform to help creative talents to develop their crafts, grow and showcase their work.

“We really like to focus on these local talents, these up-and-coming artists that need a space to express themselves, to have their own audience, a chance to showcase themselves in front of an intimate audience; the right type of audience, the right type of space,” Elham Ghanimah, AlMashtal’s creative labs curator, told Arab News.

The night began with a mellow performance by Bahraini musician and graffiti artist Du$t. His music is inspired by diverse elements such as B-boy dancing, graffiti and surrealist art. He explained that it is important for his craft that he thinks outside of the box when creating his music, and said that he is pleased to see his style of music building a following in Saudi Arabia.

“It’s amazing to see it growing here as well,” he told Arab News. “In Bahrain (we’ve done) the same event there, so to bring it here and to see that everyone is involved brings a nice feeling.”

BeatRoots is a creative experience developed by Museland’s founder, Ali Al-Saeed. It is already a regular event in Bahrain and now the label is expanding to other parts of the region.

“Everyone’s happy; the energy is really good, everything is positive, the crowd is really enjoying it,” Ghanimah said. “I think at the end, that’s really what matters.”

Many people assume the hip-hop scene is relatively new to Saudi Arabia but its origins can be traced back at least as far as the early 2000s, with interest in the genre fueled by the growth of the internet.

“In general, everyone focuses on hip-hop in English … It’s OK to get inspiration from the West but it’s also good to see what you have here, to connect with your own culture, with your roots,” Ghanimah said.

Hip-hop artist and rapper Dattune told Arab News: “We already had a hip-hop culture (in the Kingdom) but we didn’t have enough spaces to either perform or connect with each other. That’s what I love about these kinds of events. I’ve met a lot of people that I wouldn’t have met if we didn’t have these spaces. The talent is already there; all we need is a chance to perform.”

In addition to Dattune and Du$t, the BeatRoots lineup included Fizzy, Septemba, Str8tup Rkls, and hip-hop artist, rapper, and crowd-favorite Albakri, who gave a hardcore yet heartfelt performance that included two as-yet-unreleased songs.

Albakri said his inspiration comes from looking inward, citing his culture and personal identity as huge influences on his work.

“I’m a guy of mixed identity: I’m Jordanian, I’m Palestinian and I’m Saudi. I’m all of these. So it’s just about how I can connect with those three cultures,” he told Arab News.

When it comes to his unique sound, he said his main inspirations come from around Riyadh, in particular his producers Leo, Mufasa and Dice, as well as DJs and friends such as Bucky Grooves, Vinylmode and Baloo. The rapper said he hopes to establish his own record label one day.

“I’m very happy that someone from Bahrain looked into (Riyadh) and was digging for artists … Seeing people open up to the genre, seeing collaborations between the hip-hop genre, the dance/house/minimal genre … and having a space, being a collective — all of that matters to the genre and the music in general,” he said.

AlMashtal’s stated aim with cultural events such as BeatRoots is to open the doors for discussions, cultural and artistic exchanges, and the promotion of creative ventures across the Arab region.

“We wanna do more collaborations just to put everything forward in a positive way,” Ghanimah said.

“Not everyone gets a chance and if people do get a chance, not everyone gets the right chance and the right type of support.

“So, you’re getting to showcase yourself not just at any space but at a creative incubator where the whole goal is to nurture these creatives and help them reach their goals.”


Saudi Transport Ministry carries out work to improve roads leading to holy sites

Saudi Transport Ministry carries out work to improve roads leading to holy sites
Updated 06 July 2022

Saudi Transport Ministry carries out work to improve roads leading to holy sites

Saudi Transport Ministry carries out work to improve roads leading to holy sites

RIYADH: The Saudi Ministry of Transport and Logistic Services has been carrying out maintenance work in Makkah on roads leading to holy sites to help ensure the safety of pilgrims, improve travel to and from the holy sites, and help make Hajj experience easier, officials said.

The work includes installing protective barriers, fences, road signs and concrete curbs, and repainting road markings. Roads and buildings are also being repaired. The maintenance efforts have focused on improving the Hijrah route, along with the Jeddah and Makkah highways, but have also taken in parts of Makkah and the holy sites.

Some projects are already complete, including lighting along the Hijrah route and the extension of some Makkah highways.

The Ministry of Transport is responsible for planning and implementing air, land and sea transport in the Kingdom, including the maintenance of roads and coordination of the nation’s transportation system.


Officials unveil seven special events designed to enrich the Hajj experience

Officials unveil seven special events designed to enrich the Hajj experience
Updated 06 July 2022

Officials unveil seven special events designed to enrich the Hajj experience

Officials unveil seven special events designed to enrich the Hajj experience
  • The program includes three exhibitions related to the holy sites and four religious and cultural initiatives
  • They were launched on Tuesday by the Royal Commission for Makkah City and Holy Sites, represented by Kidana Development Company

JEDDAH: A series of special exhibitions and enrichment initiatives will take place at the holy sites during Hajj to provide pilgrims with enhanced spiritual and cultural experiences as part of an unforgettable Hajj journey.

The program was launched on Tuesday by the Royal Commission for Makkah City and Holy Sites, represented by the Kidana Development Company.

In a message posted on its official Twitter account, Kidana said: “To achieve the #Saudi_Vision_2030 through enriching the religious journey, the cultural experience and caring for the #Pilgrims, #Kidana launches seven initiatives to enrich the experience of the pilgrims with the participation of governmental and private sectors.”

The seven events include three exhibitions related to the holy sites and four religious and cultural initiatives.

The Covenant Exhibition in Arafat will introduce pilgrims to the most prominent characteristics of Makkah and its residents. The Water Story Exhibition, also in the Arafat area, highlights the history of water provision during Hajj and the honor of the mission. It is presented in cooperation with the Al-Zamazemah Company, which is responsible for supplying and distributing water at the holy sites during Hajj and Umrah, and throughout the year.

The third exhibition, in Mina, focuses on the Kiswa, the cloth that covers the Kaaba. It will tell the history of the Kiswa, explain how it is made, and highlight the efforts made by the Kingdom to provide and develop all Kaaba-related services. The exhibition is being organized by the General Presidency for the Affairs of the Two Holy Mosques, the House of Islamic Arts, and The Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques Institute for Hajj and Umrah Research.

The other four initiatives cover various cultural, Islamic and social topics, and will be presented in a variety of locations in collaboration with a number of specialist associations.

Coffee represents a strong element of Saudi culture that is closely linked to the identity and traditions of the country. In cooperation with the Ministry of Culture’s Year of Saudi Coffee initiative, coffee will be served to pilgrims in Mina. As part of the Hajj initiative, the pilgrims will also have a chance to learn about the distinctive characteristics of Saudi coffee, along with ways of preparing and serving it.

The second initiative, which will take place beside the Aqaba Hill Mosque in collaboration with the Saudi Tour Guides Association, aims to share the history of the location and the events that took place there.

The Kidana Development Company is organizing an initiative called A Photo and a Memory to help pilgrims remember and treasure the highlights of their Hajj experience, as part of which visitors will be presented with gifts.

Finally, the Aroma of the Holy Sites, which will take place at Mina during Eid Al-Adha, is a unique initiative designed to capture and share the essence of the holy sites.


AlUla unveils new summer schedule for flights and activities

AlUla unveils new summer schedule for flights and activities
Updated 06 July 2022

AlUla unveils new summer schedule for flights and activities

AlUla unveils new summer schedule for flights and activities
  • There are regular local flights to the UNESCO World Heritage site from Riyadh, Jeddah and Dammam, and also from Dubai

DHAHRAN, Saudi Arabia: As part of the latest efforts to promote AlUla as an increasingly popular summer vacation destination, new schedules have been announced for direct flights from within the Kingdom and the UAE.

Under the theme Live the World’s Masterpiece Summer Untold, the campaign also highlights the world-class tourism and entertainment offerings at AlUla, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site, along with special activities and excursions in the coming months and accommodation options.

Beginning this month, Saudia will offer three weekly direct flights from Riyadh to AlUla, increasing to five a week from Aug 1. As of July 4, flights are operating from Jeddah to AlUla every day of the week except Fridays. And beginning on Aug. 1, visitors from Dammam can fly direct to AlUla on weekdays. Meanwhile, Flynas offers flights between Riyadh and AlUla every Sunday.

Flynas also offers flights to AlUla from the UAE. They depart from Dubai on Fridays and return flights depart every Sunday. The airline has said it plans to increase the frequency of the flights by September. In addition, Flydubai offers two flights a week to AlUla, on Thursdays and Sundays.

One of the attractions of AlUla is its weather, which is is slightly cooler than many other parts of the country during the scorching Saudi summer. As a result, it is a popular location for visitors keen to enjoy outdoor activities such as cycling, camel riding, swimming or hiking during the day and stargazing at night.

Unique attractions include Jabal Al-Fil, or Elephant Rock, a stunning natural rock formation. Meanwhile fans of local culture and heritage can sign up for guided tours of historic locations such as Hegra, AlUla Old Town, and about half a dozen other options in and around around Dadan, Jabal Lkmah and other locations.

More adventurous or active visitors might consider having a go at ziplining, rock climbing, hiking on the hidden valley trail, or taking in the views from the air on a helicopter tour. For those who prefer to relax and enjoy a slower-paced vacation, stargazing remains a favorite activity for many, and there are also live concerts and other performances to enjoy in the Old Market Town.

In the Old Town of AlUla, visitors can chat and haggle with local vendors or tour the handicraft pavilions, where nature is the main component of traditional crafts.

When it is time to rest and recharge, visitors can sample the menus at many local restaurants, including Tama at Habitas, Suhail Old Town, Pink Camel Pastry Boutique and Circolo.

For businesses looking for an unforgettable location for a conference or team-building retreat, spaces at the majestic Maraya are available to rent. Recognized in 2020 by Guinness World Records as the world’s largest mirrored building, it offers capacity of up to 500 seats and stunning scenery all around.

The accommodation options include the popular Shaden, a four-star resort 32 minutes from the airport that offers 125 rooms and villas; and Habitas, a five-star resort 45 minutes from the airport that will reopen on July 25 after maintenance work. In addition, Caravan by Habitas offers 22 recreational vehicles.

“We will turn AlUla into a living museum, creating memories that visitors will share with the world,” Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman once said. “Heritage is the main asset of AlUla. We have to use this asset to offer visitors a unique journey through time where they can enjoy a living museum.”


Saudi Arabia participates in UN sustainable development goals forum

Saudi Arabia participates in UN sustainable development goals forum
Updated 06 July 2022

Saudi Arabia participates in UN sustainable development goals forum

Saudi Arabia participates in UN sustainable development goals forum

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia on Tuesday took part in the High Level Political Forum (HLPF) 2022, which is concerned with the sustainable development goals and working to accelerate their progress.
The forum, which is the main UN platform to follow up on the progress of the 17 SDGs and review its plans for 2030, is being held under the title: “Building back better from the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) while advancing the full implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.”
The Kingdom’s delegation is headed by the Ministry of Economy and Planning, with the participation of representatives from the ministries of education, finance, health, human resources and social development, environment, water and agriculture, communications and information technology, and the General Authority for Statistics.

 


The Kingdom’s delegation to the forum is led by the Undersecretary of the Ministry of Economy and Planning for Policies and Economic Planning Ayman bin Ishaq Afghani.
The forum, which will continue until July 15, will address goals aimed at rebuilding better after the pandemic, and a global outlook on developing the full implementation of the 2030 SDG agenda.
It will also focus on the goals of quality education, gender equality, life under water and on land, establishing partnerships to achieve the goals, and the importance of international cooperation and commitment to achieving the SDGs, taking into account low-income and least developed countries.
Afghani stressed the critical importance of the forum, saying: “The world is currently going through an important phase that requires all of us to cooperate and know what we need right now, and where we should be in the next stage, so that efforts can yield real results that will benefit the local and global levels.”
During the forum’s activities, the Kingdom’s representatives will highlight the roadmap plan developed by the country in coordination with stakeholders to achieve the SDGs, and the progress made through programs, initiatives and projects in line with the goals of the Saudi Vision 2030.
The 17 SDGs center around a call for all countries to work to promote prosperity and economic growth, and these goals include a range of social needs including education, health, social protection and employment opportunities, while addressing climate change and environmental protection.