Manama: Less than one year after movies were allowed in the country, and with the latest cinema multiplex opening this week in the Red Sea city of Jeddah, Saudi Arabia is recording impressive attendance figures, with sell-out crowds on most days.
The newly-opened Vox multiplex in Jeddah has the region’s first cinema dedicated to children.
The multiplex, featuring 12 screens, is expected to show 300 English, Arabic and Indian films annually of various genres.
Three of the 12 screens at the new venue will be “gold luxury”, providing ultra-luxurious amenities for those opting to pay a premium on tickets.
It is Jeddah’s first cinema and the Kingdom’s sixth to be opened in the past year and marks the expansion of Vox, the Dubai-based exhibition outfit, into the kingdom’s western coast.
With 35 locations comprising 345 screens across the MENA region, Vox Cinemas, a division of Majid Al Futtaim Group is the Middle East’s largest and fastest-growing exhibitor.
In addition to Vox, other exhibitors to enter the Saudi exhibition sector include the US-based AMC and the Saudi concern, Al Rashed Empire Cinema Consortium.
Three more locations will be opened elsewhere in the country in March.
About 2,000 people go to movie theatres a day in Saudi Arabia, a country where the first commercial film was screened publicly 10 months ago.
“About 59,000 people watch movies in the halls each month of whom 77 per cent are families and the rest singles,” the General Commission for Audiovisual Media (GCAM), the government body charged with developing and regulating the audiovisual industry for the kingdom said.
The majority of the Saudi population of 32 million people is under the age of 30, making it the largest potential market for movie-goers in the Arabian Gulf region.
“People here are always looking for entertainment options,” Jeddah resident Ahmad Al Hajj, 29, said.
“We are really happy to see a multiplex opening at the mall, rather than in some isolated location far from our daily lives. Now, you do not have to really make a plan in advance to watch a movie. One can decide at the spur of the moment while taking a stroll through the mall, which has always been a part of popular culture here,” he said, quoted by the Centre for International Communication (CIC).
Jumana, 32, said that movie theaters were a big factor in improving the quality of life for Saudis.
“People have limited entertainment options, but that is definitely changing with a lot of concerts and other activities being part of the entertainment mix of late,” she said.
“This is good for all of us, Saudi citizens and expatriates. We need some real, affordable options to spend our leisure time in more productive ways.”
Saudi Arabia has launched an ambitious plan to chart the future without its restrictive past. The plan includes working on diversifying the economy away from dependence on government programmes and oil revenues and adopting a new economic model that relies on public-private partnerships, privatisation of many government-run companies, entertainment, tourism, entrepreneurship, technology and non-oil exports.
The plan also includes empowering women politically, economically and socially. Women now have the right to drive and to attend major sporting events. The sight of Saudi women running and working in supermarkets and in shops has become so familiar that it no longer raises eyebrows.