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Exponential growth in box office receipts makes Saudi Arabia West Asia’s top film market

JEDDAH: In the four years since film screenings resumed across Saudi Arabia, the country has seen a boom in investment, film screenings and box office receipts, making it the West Asia’s largest film market.

Box office revenue in the MENA region as a whole is expected to grow by 4% at a compound annual rate to reach $1 billion between 2019 and 2024, compared to a decline of 2.4% globally, according to data from the tracker Market Ventures ONSITE.

This regional growth is mainly due to the creation of a significant new market following the resumption of film screening in April 2018 after a decades-long ban. The Kingdom far exceeds its neighbors in terms of market size, revenue per user and growth rate.

The Kingdom’s revenue is expected to show an annual growth rate of 27.68%, which would translate into an expected market volume of $100 million by 2024, while the average revenue per user is expected to rise to 50 $.04.

This compares favorably to the United Arab Emirates, which already has a very well-established film industry, where revenues are expected to show a lower annual growth rate of 7.68%, which would translate into an expected market volume of 37 million. dollars by 2024 and an average revenue per user of $34.56.

Outside of the Gulf region, market growth is expected to be much lower. In Egypt, revenue is expected to show an annual growth rate of 13.56%, which will translate into an expected market volume of $12 million by 2024 and an average revenue per user of $6.89.

For crisis-affected Lebanon, revenue is expected to grow at an annual growth rate of 7.58%, which will translate into an expected market volume of $4 million by 2024 and an average revenue per user of 12 $.21.

The lifting of the cinema ban was first announced by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in 2017 as part of the Vision 2030 reform program, with a view to improving the overall quality of life and diversifying the economy away from oil.

If revenue alone is enough, the policy change was a resounding success. Since the official reopening of cinemas, box office sales have exceeded 30.8 million tickets, the Saudi Press Agency reported on April 18.


56 Cinemas authorized in 20 cities since the resumption of film screening.

4,439 Jobs created for young Saudi men and women in the sector.

2,600 The screens are expected to arrive in the Kingdom by 2030.

$950 million Projections of box office receipts in the Kingdom in 2030.

In 2021 alone, the industry saw the box office market reach $238 million – a 95% increase from the previous year’s receipts of $122 million – far exceeding the UAE total in 2021 by $130 million, according to a recent report by Variety magazine.

Several analysts estimate that Saudi Arabia is on its way to becoming a billion-dollar film market over the next few years. Professional services network PwC estimates the Kingdom’s industry could be worth $950 million in 2030.

Factoring in non-admission revenue, including advertising and concessions like food and beverages that typically account for 35% of overall revenue, the sector could generate $1.5 billion in 2030.

Meanwhile, the General Audiovisual Media Commission, one of the governing authorities set up to regulate and operate cinemas in the Kingdom, estimates that there will be 2,600 cinema screens in Saudi Arabia by 2030 in an industry of worth about $1.2 billion.

Saudis arrive at a movie theater in the Riyadh Park mall after it opened to the general public on April 30, 2018 in the Saudi capital. (AFP file photo)

According to the Film Commission, a Saudi government body affiliated with the Ministry of Culture, established in February 2020, the sector has already created jobs for 4,439 young Saudis, meeting a central objective of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030 reform program.

Variety magazine confirmed in a November 2020 report, citing figures released at the META Cinema Forum exhibitor conference, that Saudi Arabia has overtaken the United Arab Emirates to become the region’s most profitable territory, with over $73 million in movie ticket sales over the past 40 weeks – an increase of approximately $2 million in box office receipts over the same period in 2019.

The United Arab Emirates during the same period in 2020 had generated about $51 million, about a quarter of its box office receipts in 2019, the magazine said.

“We believe that Saudi Arabia is the only cinema market in the world to have grown in 2020,” said Cameron Mitchell, CEO of prominent Middle East exhibitor VOX Cinemas, as quoted by Variety. This is despite the fact that due to the pandemic, cinemas were closed in the Kingdom between March and mid-June.

Saudi youth are driving cinema ticket sales, with admissions in 2030 expected to reach 60-70 million. (AFP)

Mitchell said that as a theatrical market, the Middle East in 2019 was worth $600 million, of which Saudi Arabia had a share of $110 million and the United Arab Emirates around $250 million.

Much of Saudi Arabia’s remarkable box office success in the space of just four years can be attributed to the huge investments the Kingdom has seen in the form of multiplex cinemas.

Under Vision 2030, the Kingdom aims to attract domestic and international investors, increase household spending on entertainment from 2.9% to 6% and develop a market worth SR30 billion (1 $.9 billion) in recreation services.

In April 2018, coinciding with the resumption of film screening, the Kingdom’s Development Investment Entertainment Company opened its first cinema in the King Abdullah Financial District in Riyadh.

Since then, 56 movie theaters with 518 screens have been licensed in 20 cities, according to the Film Commission. During this period, 1,144 films in 22 languages ​​from 38 countries were screened, including 22 Saudi films.

According to a recent report by Variety magazine, citing data from US marketing analytics firm Comscore, the number of multi-screen movie theaters in Saudi Arabia increased from 33 locations at the start of 2021 to 53 locations in December 2021, i.e. an increase of 20 new sites. .

With Saudi Arabia’s population expected to reach 39.5 million by 2030, analysts believe the Kingdom has the potential to absorb up to 2,600 screens.

Top 10 box office hits in Saudi Arabia, 2021

  • 1. “Waafet Reggaala”, Empire, $15.08 million

  • 2. “Spider-Man: No Way Home”, Sony, $11.2 million

  • 3. “Cruel”, Disney, $9.1 million
  • 4. “Wrath of Man,” Eagle Films, $8.3 million
  • 5. “Mesh Ana,” N Stars, $8.2 million
  • 6. “No Time to Die,” Phars, $8 million
  • 7. “Fast & Furious 9,” Universal, $7.8 million
  • 8. “Venom: Let There Be Carnage”, Sony, $6.7 million
  • 9. “A Quiet Place 2,” Paramount, $6.1 million
  • 10. “Maman Hamel”, Empire, $5.9 million

Depending on how quickly the Kingdom’s market evolves, it could potentially generate 60-70 million admissions in 2030.

Saudi-based Muvi Cinemas operates the largest number of local cinemas, followed by Dubai-based VOX Cinemas, US cinema chain AMC, the world’s largest cinema operator, Lebanon’s Empire Cinema and Mexican company Cinepolis.

Before the pandemic, VOX had planned to invest $533 million in the Kingdom to open 600 screens, including at least four multiplexes in partnership with IMAX, creating 3,000 new jobs over a five-year period.

Cinepolis and Al-Tayer Group have partnered with Al-Hokair Group, while iPic Entertainment is exploring opportunities with BAS Global Investments Company to develop 25-30 sites over the next decade.

Meanwhile, India’s PVR Limited is exploring options with UAE-based Al-Futtaim Group, while CJ 4DPLEX has signed a deal with Cinemacity.

The Kuwait National Cinema Company and Dubai-based distributor Front Row Filmed Entertainment plan to develop 12 multiplexes through their subsidiary Cinescape, while the Al-Rashed Empire Cinema consortium has received a license to enter the Kingdom’s market.

Infrastructure and investment are not the only reasons for Saudi success. Understanding the audience and knowing which films to screen were also integral.

About a third of Saudi Arabia’s total population is made up of expatriates, including 3 million Indians, concentrated in the provinces of Riyadh and Mecca.

Market analysts say that a strategy that offers moviegoers a mix of Hollywood, regional, Bollywood and local content is a surefire way to attract audiences to cinemas.

To cater to such a wide range of tastes and interests, some 340 new feature films were released in Saudi cinemas in 2021 alone, compared to 222 in 2020.

Of course, what Saudi officials would like to see in the coming years are local films that top the box office.

Kevin E. Boling