The first cinema in Saudi Arabia in over three decades is expected to open later this month in the capital Riyadh after authorities inked an agreement with AMC Entertainment to launch 40 theatres in the course of the next half a decade. Unlike other places which are segregated by gender in the conservative Muslim kingdom, the cinemas will welcome both men and women.
According to a source the first screening is expected to be Black Panther, a superhero movie by Marvel. In the 1970s there were some cinemas in Saudi Arabia but powerful clerics forced them to close and this was a reflection of the rising Islamist influence that was sweeping the Arab world then.
Social and economic reforms
Last year the government disclosed that the ban on cinemas would be lifted as part of the social and economic reforms being pushed by Mohammed bin Salman, the Crown Prince of the kingdom. At the moment MBS, as he is fondly referred to is on a tour of the United States where he is seeking investments that will assist in broadening the Saudi Arabian economy and reduce its dependence on petroleum exports.
Despite the ban that has been in place for decades Western culture and media is not alien to Saudi Arabians. Television series and movies from Hollywood are widely watched in homes and discussed.
According to the chief executive officer of AMC, Adam Aron, the location of the first AMC movie theatre will be at the King Abdullah Financial District at a building that was originally set to become a symphony concert hall. Aron added that facilities at the main movie theater will include 500 leather seats, balcony and orchestra levels as well as marble bathrooms. By mid-summer AMC will add three more screens.
50% market share
The Kingdom has plans of setting up about 350 movie theaters with more than 2,500 screens by the year 2030 in order to serve the country’s population of over 32 million, majority of whom below 30 years of age. These cinemas are expected to generate close to $1 billion annually in ticket sales. In this effort AMC Entertainment has entered into a partnership with the kingdom’s main sovereign wealth fund, Public Investment Fund. AMC is aiming to grab a market share of 50%.
“Where else are you going to find a movie market that does not exist today that could be a billion dollars three or five years from now?” posedAron.