LOS ANGELES — Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s goodwill tour of Hollywood is starting to pay dividends.
The Saudi General Entertainment Authority on Wednesday announced deals to bring shows from Cirque du Soleil, Feld Entertainment, Inc., and National Geographic to the country, part of an effort to diversify its economy. Earlier, AMC Entertainment Holdings, Inc. announced plans for as many as 100 theaters.
An estimated 200 film and TV producers and dealmakers turned out in Beverly Hills, California, to hear presentations from the entertainment authority. The event was held at the Four Seasons Hotel, fronted by a statue of Marilyn Monroe in her immortal pose from The Seven Year Itch, with a blast of wind from a subway lifting her skirt.
Under the accords, Cirque du Soleil will bring high-wire acts to the capital Riyadh, while closely held Feld Entertainment will stage productions such as Disney on Ice using local performers. National Geographic Encounter plans events in 10 locations and IMG Artists will create custom programs. The Marvel Experience will open later this year in Jeddah and Riyadh. The government plans to build venues for entertainment.
“We have seen tremendous interest from the private sector,” Ibrahim Al Omar, governor of the Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority, said in an interview. Officials have met with more than 180 companies since the start of their visit, he said.
On Thursday the delegation travels to San Francisco.
“The objective is to open the whole market” to investment, with the exception of some sensitive sectors, Al Omar said. The government wants to promote a “friendly business environment” and draw international visitors, he said.
Saudi Arabia’s first cinema in over three decades will open on April 18 in Riyadh, authorities said Wednesday, after a ban was lifted last year as part of a far-reaching liberalization drive.
AMC Entertainment has been granted the first license to operate cinemas, with Saudi state media saying the US giant is expected to open 40 cinemas across 15 Saudi cities over the next five years.
“AMC plans to open the kingdom’s first cinema theatre in Riyadh on April 18,” the information ministry’s Centre for International Communication said in a statement.
The news comes after AMC Entertainment signed a non-binding agreement in December with Saudi Arabia’s vast Public Investment Fund to build and operate cinemas across the kingdom.
“The granting of the first license marks the opening of very significant opportunities for exhibitors,” Information Minister Awwad Alawwad was quoted as saying in the statement.
“The Saudi market is very large, with the majority of the population… eager to watch their favorite films here at home.”
International theater chains have long eyed the kingdom as the Middle East’s last untapped mass market of more than 30 million people, the majority of whom are under 25.
AMC will still face stiff competition from other heavyweights including Dubai-based VOX Cinemas, the leading operator in the Middle East.
The move to reopen cinemas is part of a modernisation drive by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who is seeking to balance unpopular subsidy cuts in an era of low oil prices with more entertainment options — despite opposition from religious hardliners. — Bloomberg/AFP