UPDATED, WRITETHRU with AMC and MPAA weigh-in: The National Association of Theatre Owners has offered its praise to Saudi Arabia after the kingdom confirmed today that it would lift a 35-year ban on public cinemas. NATO also revealed that a delegation from the trade group led by President and CEO John Fithian has been in Riyadh during the past week meeting with various government officials in anticipation of the announcement.
Several NATO member companies have developed “extensive plans” for cinemas in the kingdom and “stand ready to develop luxurious and cutting-edge movie theaters for all Saudis to enjoy,” the org said.
It also noted that the NATO team played a role in getting the ball across the finish line in meetings with officials from Saudi’s General Entertainment Authority and the Ministry of Information. Fithian called it “an honor to play a small part in facilitating this historic decision.”
The MPAA today also lauded Saudi Arabia’s move. “The MPAA applauds the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia — under the leadership of HRH Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman — for its decision to end the prohibition on movie theaters,” MPAA Chairman and CEO Charles Rivkin said in a statement. “This is a positive step for the development of Saudi Arabia’s local creative economy and for moviegoers throughout the Middle East region. We firmly believe that film has the power to build bridges, across borders and between cultures, in every corner of the world.”
The government’s move had been expected as Deadline reported last month. An initiative to build and open cinemas was a focus of the Future Investment Initiative conference held in Riyadh in October and falls within the Vision 2030 program spearheaded by progressive Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman Al-Saud.
The kingdom’s cinemas were shuttered in 1982 after clerics persuaded the government to do so. New ones are expected to begin opening in March.
Vue International founder Tim Richards was one of the attendees of the Future Investment Initiative and told Deadline that Saudi Arabia looks like a very interesting opportunity. Indeed, the Middle East is a growing box office region and that 65%-70% Saudi’s population is under age 30. The kingdom’s first Comic-Con was held in Jeddah in February and attracted more than 10,000.
The kingdom’s General Commission for Audiovisual Media passed a resolution today allowing the authority to grant licenses to cinemas, and there are projected to be more than 300 by 2030, totaling 2,000-plus screens.
AMC Entertainment Holdings later added that it has signed a non-binding Memorandum of Understanding with The Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia to “explore a range of commercial opportunities for collaboration that will support the growth of the Kingdom’s entertainment sector.”
Fithian said today, “We are excited to witness the opening of the Saudi cinema market. Movies are one of the great shared pleasures that highlight our common humanity. The growing and young population of the kingdom is hungry for the cinematic experience. We anticipate that the Saudi market will grow quickly.”