With more than 600 cinemas remaining shut in North America and a global decline in revenues that reached up to 80% in Europe and Asia, the outlook of the screening film industry seems to be gloomy worldwide. The lockdowns, which correspond with the intensity of each wave of COVID-19 infections, have reduced the cinema audiences and fans, taking them away to subscription-based streaming services.
Contrary to what is happening in most parts of the world, cinemas in Saudi Arabia are flourishing and expanding. For example, the giant Latin American operator, Cinepolis, has launched its first two cinemas early this year with a promise to open another 200 screens across the Kingdom.
While COVID-19 has cast a dark shadow on the box office revenues globally, Saudi Arabia is reversing the wave with growth in screens, revenues and movies.
IT IS NEW
“In December 2017, the Saudi government lifted a four-decade ban on cinemas. This move has drawn local, regional and international attention to the industry. The cinema audiences in the Kingdom are hungry to watch movies on the ‘BIG SCREEN,” said Wael Kareem, a PR specialist with focus on TV and cinema.
“Cinema is still a new business. The market is fresh and far from reaching the point of saturation. On the contrary, there is a place for more cinema chains to enter the market. With a population exceeding 35 million people, cinemagoers are on the rise. It is one of the activities that can be practiced by individuals and families alike. Under the Kingdom Vision 2030, household spending on entertainment is expected to increase to 6% of the GDP,” he explained as a reason why the Kingdom is expected to attract more cinema chains.
According to a report by PwC, a multinational consultation company, the cinema industry is expected to generate USD 1.5 billion. This amount will come from ticket and FandB sales.
When asked about the major cinema operators in Saudi Arabia, Kareem said: “Currently, hundreds of screens are being installed to be opened in all parts of the Kingdom by VOX Cinemas, an Emirati company, AMC Entertainment, a prominent US theatre operator, MUVI, the first local Saudi operator, and Empire Cinema, the largest independently-owned cinema chain in the UK”.
AROUND THE CLOCK
“My family and I used to go to Bahrain or Dubai to watch a movie in the cinema. Now, tens of movies are screened here in the Kingdom every week. We are thirsty for the cinema after long years of a ban. It is a family activity that we never get bored of,” said Homoud, a Jeddah-based Saudi man in his early fifties.
“The cinema is new. The demand is still high. One of the activities I missed during the 2020 lockdown was taking my family to the cinema. When the government eased the COVID-19 restrictions on cinemas and other entertainment activities in June 2020, going to the cinema was the first thing I did with my family,” he added.
It is interesting to note that cinemas operate 24/7. This is one of the government regulations that has helped both cinema lovers and operators around the clock. If you decide to watch a movie at 3:30 am, you will find a variety of cinemas that are ready to welcome you.
“I love staying up at night. I always go to the movies alone after midnight,”Majd, a 26-year-old private sector employee, told Majalla.
A DESTINATION FOR FILMMAKERS
As a new genre of art, Saudi Arabia is looking into ways to be a global center for the filmmaking industry.
The action movie ‘Desert Warrior’ is being shot in NEOM, a USD 500 bn cognitive city-state mega development northwest of Saudi Arabia. The American production started last September and is set to be filmed completely in the Kingdom. The movie is produced in partnership with MBC Group, the most popular TV network in the Middle East.
This remarkable turnaround will help the Kingdom speed up its transformation to the post-oil economy era by diversifying the sources of income.
Turning the Kingdom into a film production hub gives a boost to movie theaters, so that movies are produced and shown in the Kingdom instead of just importing movies.
“Saudi film productions are growing with more money being invested in the industry. This comes as part of enriching the local content, which opens new doors for more scriptwriters, filmmakers, and producers to take initiatives and strike partnerships with other Arab and international filmmakers. This means more films will be screened in cinemas, giving cinemagoers more options,” concluded Wael Kareem.