The National Association of Theatre Owners has offered its praise to Saudi Arabia after the kingdom confirmed earlier today it would lift a 35-year ban on public cinemas. NATO also revealed that a delegation from the association led by President and CEO John Fithian has been in Riyadh over 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 trade org said. It also noted 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 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 Saudi’s population is 65%-70% under 30-years-old. 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 by 2030, there are projected to be over 300 with more than 2,000 screens.
Fithian says, “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.”
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