Saudis attend a short film festival on a rare movie night in Riyadh. They are avid consumers of Western media and culture. Image Credit: AFP

Manama: The opening of movie theatres in Saudi Arabia will have a very positive impact on the Saudi society and will expand the entertainment options for Saudis, the Director General of the General Commission of Audiovisual Media (GCAM) Redha Haidar (pictured) said.

Haidar gave no date for the launch of cinemas but, in a detailed interview with Gulf News, he said local, regional and international investors were preparing for it.

Cinemas will be opened in several venues across the Kingdom, and the existing infrastructure, which includes 140 shopping malls built by the kingdom’s top 10 developers, would offer ample opportunities for more venues.

All eyes in Saudi Arabia and beyond are on the “exciting and rapid evolution of the media sector”.

For Haider, the revamping of the audiovisual media ecosystem in the kingdom will also offer outstanding opportunities to young Saudis, especially given recent surveys show 74 per cent of Saudis consider cinema an important entertainment option and 60 per cent visited a cinema on their last trip to a Gulf country.

Excerpts from the interview with Redha Haidar

When will licences be issued?

The cinema licencing regulation has been approved by the board of directors of GCAM and investors can start submitting their applications for assessment. Our offices and investor management team are already in-touch with several investors.

The investors should submit applications to GCAM, who will provide them with the list of required documents for each licence. If investors are asking other entities about the requirements, they should inform them to contact GCAM.

We consider this a historical moment for the kingdom, this regulation has been developed in coordination with all government entities concerned and embeds strategic choices that will ensure a healthy cinema sector in the kingdom.

When do you expect to open the first movie theatre? In which cities?

Local, regional and international investors are racing to get their licences and are actively preparing for cinema launch in several venues across the kingdom.

There are over 140 malls developed by the top 10 developers in the kingdom across all 13 regions – this infrastructure can easily accommodate additional new cinema venues.

Are there special arrangements for cinema venues?

Cinema operation will be in compliance with laws governing Saudi Arabia.

What is the role of GCAM?

As a regulator, GCAM’s role is to develop regulations and guidelines for the sector, to provide licences to interested and eligible investors, to censor and classify films for appropriate audiences to ensure they are aligned with the Saudi media strategy and guidelines, and to monitor the sector to ensure there are no violations.

What are some details of regulations and regulatory frameworks?

The cinema licencing regulation has been approved by the board of GCAM and investors can start applications for assessment. The regulation details the types of licences investors need to obtain from GCAM to develop and operate cinemas in the kingdom. There are three types of licences:

a. Establishing a movie theatre (for real estate developers and webmasters)

b. Licence to operate movie theatres

c. Licence to operate the movie theatres permanently or temporarily

What types of movies will be shown? How will you deal with Saudi movies?

The movie theatres will be operated by experienced operators that will have access to a variety of content, local and international, that can meet the Saudis’ demand. This content will go through our classification and may entail some censorship where needed, so as to ensure no harmful content or scenes are exhibited in the Saudi cinemas.

Saudi films will also go through the same classification process.

What is the importance and impact of opening the first movie theatres at a cultural and economic level in the kingdom? How many permanent and temporary jobs will be created? What are your expectations for the impact of cinemas in stimulating growth and diversifying the economy?

Cinema will have a very positive impact on Saudi society; it will expand the entertainment options for Saudi Arabia. It will be accessible across all regions.

It will also allow local movie production to flourish, and provide opportunities to promote Saudi culture and values/identity abroad.

The cinema sector will create new job opportunities for Saudis (30,000 permanent jobs and over 130,000 temporary jobs).

We also expect Saudisation levels to be very high due to the local nature of cinema operations.

Cinema is expected to be a multi-billion sector by 2030 with SR90 billion (Dh88.16 billion) in cumulative economic impact till 2030.

What is your position on people who consider cinema a source of moral corruption that negatively impacts Saudi norms and culture?

We have collaborated with several governmental entities to draft cinema licencing regulations, guidelines and polices that are in line with the Saudi customs and traditions.

We have also developed customised censorship and classification guidelines to ensure local norms are respected and adhered to when films are exhibited in the Saudi cinemas.

There are those who say the ban on movie theatres has no effect in the time of “YouTube”. What do you think?

Cinemas will significantly enrich the entertainment options in the kingdom, improving citizens’ quality of life and offering broader cultural benefits. The cinema launch is awaited by an eager society – recent surveys show that 74 per cent of Saudis consider cinema an important entertainment option, and 60 per cent visited a cinema on their last trip to a Gulf country.

Furthermore, the cinema experience is evolving with IMAX, 4DX offerings and other value added services (premium food and beverages). This is a clear differentiation between this and YouTube.

Are cinemas new in the kingdom or have they existed before?

Commercial cinemas are now allowed to operate in the kingdom for the first time in more than 35 years.