2019 Outlook: Opening up of Saudi Arabia's entertainment industry brings great challenges and opportunities for the region

The shifting landscape will continue to create exciting opportunities for established players and emerging professionals alike in 2019, writes Michael Garin, CEO, Image Nation Abu Dhabi.

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The region’s media and entertainment industry has seen some dynamic changes this year, and the sector is on its way to becoming a thriving contributor to the economy with a diverse and distinctive creative voice.

The shifting landscape will continue to create exciting opportunities for established players and emerging professionals alike in 2019, but these come with significant challenges.

The biggest milestone of 2018 has been the opening up of the Saudi Arabian market, which launched its first cinema screens in 35 years. With a population of over 30 million and almost 350 cinemas planned by 2030, the scale of the Saudi audience offers the prospect of a financially sustainable commercial audience for entertainment, something that the small populations of other Gulf countries will struggle to maintain in isolation.

Although cinemas only opened in the kingdom this year, Saudi audiences such as their Khaleeji neighbours have had ready access to Netflix, Amazon, Hulu and other international streaming services for several years. They’re accustomed to the high standard of international film and television production and expect the same quality from local content. The challenge for local broadcasters and exhibitors is to create home-grown content that matches this quality of writing and production values when telling relevant stories from regional talents.


This is easier said than done. Some aspects of the entertainment industry can be transported into the region from the outside world. VOX and AMC can build cinemas and Warner Bros, Paramount Disney and others can supply the movies that fill their seats, while Six Flags can build theme parks and Cirque de Soleil can perform.

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