Majid Al Futtaim, the conglomerate behind Ski Dubai and Vox Cinema, expects shortly to obtain a licence to operate movie screens in Saudi Arabia and eyes up to 600 Vox Cinemas screens over a decade after the kingdom lifted a 35-year ban on theatres, a company executive said on Sunday.
"We have applied for a licence and we're hoping that we should be getting our licence soon, it is imminent," Ahmed Ismail, chief executive of MAF Ventures, told The National. "It could be a big opportunity, subject to content regulations and real estate partners who are able to provide us locations."
The Dubai-based mall operator sees potential for 300 to 600 Vox Cinema screens in Saudi Arabia over the next decade. Saudi Arabia is focused on developing its leisure and entertainment industry to create new jobs for young people, modernise the country and attract tourists. The country’s Public Investment Fund has signed a deal with US-based AMC to open the first theatre in the kingdom, which will start with a screening of Black Panther. The movie will premiere in Riyadh on April 18. AMC plans to build another 40 cinemas in the country over the next five years, eagerly eyeing the lucrative new market of 32 million new pairs of eyes. Under the economic roadmap of Vision 2030, it is expected that the value of the cinema industry will grow to over $1bn in value over the coming years, PIF, the sovereign wealth fund, has said.
Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman visited Hollywood during a recent three-week tour in the US that featured deals ranging from renewable energy to tech.
MAF Ventures, the entertainment unit of Majid Al Futtaim, expects the additional theatres will boost the Arabic film industry.
“It could be transformative, not just for Saudi Arabia but for the region because having that many Arabic-speaking screens in the region will finally give Arab film a big enough platform to produce high quality movies,” he said. “It could be quite the game-changer.”
The company is in talks with various Saudi developers to find locations for its cinemas once it obtains its license.
“We’d love to do all 300 in the first year but we’re constrained by locations, so it’s about how fast we get them,” Mr Ismail said.
MAF Ventures has a total of 300 screens in the region, but only 150 are in MAF malls, with the rest located at third-party locations. MAF malls include Mall of the Emirates, where Ski Dubai is located.
“There are many many fantastic developers in Saudi that we want to partner with,” he said declining to name them. “We talk to everybody.”
Regionally, Egypt is the company’s fastest-growing market this year, where it has seen performance “improve significantly” and expects to grow ahead of the inflation rate, he said. MAF Ventures has also a ski slope in Mall of Egypt in Cairo.