Gulf, MENA region expect expansion of film industry

Total cinem a revenue in Saudi Arabia is expected to reach $1.5 billion in 2030.
Sunday 11/11/2018
Participants in a panel discussion on cinema content for the Arab world at the MENA Cinema Forum in Dubai. (MENA Cinema Forum)
With an eye on the future. Participants in a panel discussion on cinema content for the Arab world at the MENA Cinema Forum in Dubai. (MENA Cinema Forum)

DUBAI - The MENA Cinema Forum brought together regional and international industry players from across the film-making spectrum. The focus was on the economic effects of the growing cinema market in the region with those in attendance keen on learning what it meant to open the Saudi cinema market.

There seemed to be agreement among speakers that the combination of Hollywood, Bollywood and Arabic content that the UAE market has adopted and the kind of finesse used by cinema operators in Dubai in terms of facilities and formats could be an excellent starting point for Saudi Arabia.

Topics such as investment in the cinema industry, trends, the future of cinema in MENA, strategic implementation and competitive operations dominated discussions by key players from several industries, business leaders and cinema industry experts

Predictions were that the Gulf Cooperation Council region would see the development of 1,000 cinema halls in five years, making it the hotspot for operators, exhibitors, distributors and local and international production houses.

The region is gearing up for a massive expansion in entertainment. It has 1,300 cinema screens in operation and most of the new cinema screens will be in Saudi Arabia, which reopened cinema theatres after a hiatus of 35 years.

Total cinema revenue in Saudi Arabia is expected to reach $1.5 billion in 2030, research by PwC Middle East, a global advisory firm, claimed.

“By 2030, Saudi Arabia is expected to host 2,600 cinemas,” said Martin Berlin, Middle East partner at PwC Middle East. “Based on global and regional benchmarks, we expect [Saudi Arabia] to accommodate between 300 and 370 cinema locations.”

Berlin based his forecast on a projected 2030 Saudi population of 39.5 million and 6.6 screens per 100,000 people.

“Based on pricing of $11-$14 for lower-end formats and $40 for luxury formats, [Saudi Arabia] could generate $950 million in box office revenues by 2030. As other revenue streams typically account for about 35% of overall revenues, this brings the total to $1.5 billion,” Berlin said.

He advocated four factors that should receive attention so the Saudi cinema industry reaches its full potential. These are: scouting good locations for cinemas; an effective programming mix of Hollywood, regional, Bollywood and local content; adopting successful regional cinema formats meeting different tastes and preferences; and sensible pricing models for long-term sustenance of the sector.

On the topic of “Cinema Content for the Arab World,” Kaswara al-Khatib, chairman and CEO of UTURN Entertainment, said: “In Saudi Arabia, the business model needs to be completely different. We cannot certainly compete with Japanese, American and European films right now but we can definitely create something different. We also want to express our culture to the outer world through our cinemas.”

Colin Brown, managing partner (International) of MAD Solutions & Arab Cinema Centre, talked about tailoring content for Saudi culture.

“There is a need of some psychological and structural changes not only in Saudi Arabia but also throughout the region. As a professional industry, we cannot depend on foreign movies alone. To be completely independent, we need to train young talent from this region to come up with good Arabic content,” he said.

Another key topic was how Arab cinemas were getting international recognition and how stronger strategies and supply chains could improve it.

Bassam Hajjawi, president/CEO of the International Distribution Agency, pointed to the international recognition Lebanese cinema was getting. “We see so many young talents among us who can shine. We need to follow international Arab style. We need big stars from this region and it’s only possible if we focus on bringing the Arab style, culture and characteristics to the cinemas,” he said.

Leila Masinaei, managing director of GM Events, who organised the forum, said in its first edition the forum attracted 800 attendees who engaged in fruitful business networking, which resulted in great relationships being formed.

“For 2019, we are going to expand all the talks to the topic of production of Hollywood and Bollywood movies in the Middle East and, most important, the production of Arab cinemas by the youth of MENA region. We will try to build the support of major financing and distribution companies,” Masinaei said.

“I can confirm so far, we have four movie premieres confirmed for MENA Cinema Forum 2019. Two from major studios and two regional movies,” she said, adding that an expanded edition would be November 12-14, 2019.