The Kuwait National Cinema Company and leading Middle East distributor Front Row Filmed Entertainment’s exhibition arm, Cinescape Cinemas, are in final negotiations to launch a first phase of multiplexes in Saudi Arabia by the 4th quarter of this year. The plans come as the kingdom has lifted a decades-long ban on public movie houses, and as players vie for rights to expand into the potentially lucrative market. KNCC and Cinescape are eyeing 27 screens across strategic locations in the three most prominent Saudi cities of Riyadh, Jeddah and Dammam.

Saudi’s General Commission for Audiovisual Media is currently mapping out the rules and regulations for reopening cinemas. Others planning to move into the kingdom include Vue International and AMC Entertainment Holdings.

KNCC is also in deep negotiations with high profile real estate entities to secure additional multiplexes as well as stand-alone cinemas across the country. The company expects to open a total of 12 multiplexes in the next 36-month period.

This is all in accordance with Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman Al-Saud’s Vision 2030 program which includes vast plans for the media and entertainment space as he moves to diversify the economy and reduce the kingdom’s dependence on oil.

Kuwait and Saudi Arabia have a cultural and geographical heritage that links them historically in the region. The two nations share the same core values and principles, encouraging a smooth transition into the new and dynamic market. KNCC was the first entertainment entity to launch in the gulf region in 1954. It is the largest in Kuwait with 91% of the theatrical market share.

KNCC’s Hisham Al Ghanim says, “There is a high influx of Saudi audiences that flock to Kuwait to experience the cinema here because of the films we are able to show and the high standards of the sites themselves, so we have a keen understanding and appreciation of their tastes and habits that will translate automatically to the cinemas we have secured over there and the expansion thereafter.”

Gianluca Chakra of Front Row adds, “Along with these distribution lines, there is a potential to grow once the lay of the land has settled. Front Row’s outside-the-box exhibition and distribution model can only help enhance the Saudi expansion. Added to that the strong Egyptian catalogue and the burgeoning market of original content development we are closely working on together.”

KNCC, part of the Tamdeen Group holding company, currently operates 68 screens with over 14,000 seats in key locations in Kuwait. Since 2013, it has partnered with Front Row and is a market leader in financing and acquiring local language films which it releases through Front Row.

That Dubai-based company acquires all rights for distribution in the Middle East and North Africa and has offices in Kuwait and Lebanon. Front Row was launched in 2003 by Gianluca and Michel Chakra and currently has a library of over 875 titles which include VOD and TV rights. Front Row and KNCC acquire between 90‐120 titles a year with almost 70% of the Arabic-language produced titles for the Middle East. Front Row also has a deal with iTunes as the sole aggregator service in the MENA region and a pay-TV output deal with BeiN Media.