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Top 10 reasons why I am bullish on the entertainment sector in KSA
Published in The Saudi Gazette on 25 - 06 - 2019

Established in May 2016, the General Entertainment Authority (GEA) is the official regulator and developer of the Kingdom's promising entertainment sector. It acts as the first port of call for companies interested in investing in entertainment, and aims to attract and guide artists, businesses, and investors — from Saudi Arabia and abroad — to create an entertainment sector that positions the Kingdom among leading regional and global countries within the entertainment industry.
GEA aims to build a competitive and creative sector that is ambitious and ready to drive forward contemporary culture and entertainment, while celebrating and preserving the Kingdom's unique society, history and place in the world. In line with Saudi Arabia's Vision 2030, GEA seeks to establish a vibrant society and support in enhancing the quality of life, in addition to a thriving economy that creates opportunities for citizens and businesses.
These are the reasons why I am optimistic about this promising sector in KSA.
1. Regulatory improvements across the board
The creation of the General Entertainment Authority as well as other government bodies, such as the Ministry of Culture, the General Commission for Audiovisual Media (GCAM), and the Quality of Life Program has paved the way for companies to obtain licenses for the various activities and services they offer in the sector. Today, trade licenses exist for multiple types of companies along the entertainment supply chain, and other licenses are offered for event-based activities, and a streamlining of the process through one-stop shops or online platforms is under continuous evolution. Whether it is a venue, an event or a service, today alongside the Ministry of Commerce and Investment, many licenses have been unlocked working toward the goal of contributing an annual GDP contribution of SR36 billion, increasing household spend in entertainment from 0.5 percent to 2 percent, and creating over 200k jobs by 2030. Not only will local companies benefit, but international entrants can also harness the support of the Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority (SAGIA) to participate and contribute through programs such as "Invest Saudi".
2. A vision that aligns all stakeholders
Creating a vibrant society and a thriving economy are among Vision 2030's main themes. The Vision also clearly outlines entertainment as an important economic contributor in 2030 in terms of jobs and GDP, with the sector expected to generate 200,000 direct and indirect jobs by 2030. One of these programs that will facilitate GEA's work is the Quality of Life program 2020, which aims to develop and diversify entertainment opportunities to meet the needs of the population. The QOL program has created an ecosystem that aligns multiple government institutions, such as the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Municipalities and Rural Affairs, the General Sports Authority, and the Ministry of Culture. All parties involved work towards boosting citizens' participation in cultural, sporting and entertainment activities and elevating the ranking of Saudi cities to be among the top globally in terms of quality of life.
3. Seasons setting the stage for tourism
At the onset of 2019, the Saudi Commission for Tourism & National Heritage created a well-planned seasonal calendar for the Kingdom with activities spanning over nationwide seasons, such as Eid celebrations and National Day. More importantly, the calendar designated 12 seasons spread across the year for various regions and cities all over the Kingdom. Filled with various cultural, entertainment and sporting events, the seasons bring out the best of the city or region promoting both domestic and international tourism. The Eastern Province, Riyadh, Jeddah, Taif, Al-Ula, Aseer and other regions will each have an annual season that creates a unique and vibrant platform through which entertainment companies can capitalize on the influx of local and international tourists.
4. A young population fueling demand
Sixty percent of Saudi Arabia is under the age of 30. Not only does this mean demanding teens and tweens seeking a variety of in-home and out-of-home entertainment options, but also newly married couples, and new parents demanding a better quality of life within the Kingdom for themselves and their children. Entertainment forms one of the key pillars to a better quality of life, alongside education and healthcare. Not to mention that entertainment is a main component of social welfare as it contributes to social cohesion, providing opportunities for families and friends to enjoy different activities together.
5. Government backing for a vibrant SME sector
GEA seeks to enrich Saudi Arabia's promising entertainment sector with numerous investment opportunities through attracting companies, businessmen, and artists both locally and globally with investments expected to reach $69 billion by 2030. Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), entrepreneurs, and creative talents mainly fuel entertainment across many fields; hence this segment will benefit the lion's share of these investments. Although Saudi Arabia's economy is mainly dependent on oil, it has made tremendous strides towards growing the SME sector starting with the creation of the SME General Authority (Monsha'at). GEA has collaborated with Monsha'at to establish and operate a business accelerator for the entertainment sector to support entrepreneurs' prosperity through SMEs, build local capacities, and embrace ideas and transform them into startups. Through this agreement, GEA will provide specialized workshops for entrepreneurs and SMEs operating in the sector. The agreement will also allow GEA to receive investors or prospective investors in the entertainment sector at Monsha'at's SMEs Support Center and offer them technical and advisory services and training programs.
6. A focus on local content development
Although Saudi Arabia currently lacks many of the skills required for a sustainable entertainment sector, tremendous efforts are underway to nurture local talents. GEA, in partnership with many other government entities, has put in place programs to scout local talents and further build their skills, in addition to establishing academies, setting up online training content, and embedding courses in schools and universities across the Kingdom. This year, GEA has signed MOUs with Crown Prince Muhammad Bin Salman Bin Abdulaziz Charity Foundation (MISK) and Takamol Holding. Hundreds of Saudi university students can now prepare for the job market through the GEA-MISK training program. The initiative aims to enhance students' skills and experience and help them apply their knowledge. The agreement with Takamol Holding, on the other hand, aims to establish frameworks of cooperation in areas of common operations, and to study the possibility of developing the electronic content of both parties and organizing training courses for GEA's employees.
7. Year-round favorable climate and geographical diversity
The entertainment sector can benefit from Saudi Arabia's climate, which varies depending on the region. During the summer months, the southwest regions of Taif, Asir, and Jazan benefit from a temperate weather, whereas winter is warm in Jeddah and cold in other regions including Riyadh, Qassim, Hail, and Al-Jouf. Due to its vast area, the Kingdom enjoys geographical diversity, which makes room for a wider range of entertainment options. The terrain is dominated by deserts and rocky highlands surrounded by a long stretch of shore with sandy beaches and clear waters along with ample green islands. Hijaz and Asir in the east enrich the Kingdom with mountain ranges with lush hilltops. Another aspect adding beauty to the landscape is the volcanic mountains in the Kingdom's east and northeast.
8. An expanding infrastructure
In line with the ambitious goals outlined through Vision 2030, the Kingdom's infrastructure is currently witnessing a mega revamp. The $426-billion National Industrial Development and Logistics Program (NIDLP) would empower all productive sectors, including the entertainment industry, with investments involving energy, railways, industrial projects, and airports. The plan would also see the privatization of central infrastructure, including airports, which are now under the control of the sovereign Saudi wealth fund, the Public Investment Fund (PIF), a preliminary step to privatization. With $534 billion-worth projects in the pipeline, PIF has launched multiple projects and is also undertaking the development of Qiddiya, an entertainment mega-project under construction, and has established "SEVEN", the Saudi Entertainment Ventures Company, which will invest, develop and operate various entertainment offerings across the Kingdom.
9. A traditionally hospitable population
While many aspects of life in the Kingdom are changing, core values, such as hospitality, will certainly remain and play a vital part in welcoming visitors to the Kingdom. People of this country are used to welcoming guests all-year-round. Famed for being a destination for religious tourism, the Kingdom hosts Haj visitors from several countries in the world every season with exceptional warmth and a genuinely hospitable spirit. It equally welcomes visitors coming for business, and this has now expanded into the welcoming of tourists formally through an event and soon tourism visas, and naturally through Saudi values.
10. An entertainment offering that is global and diverse
GEA is determined to position the Kingdom within the global entertainment map though planning and organizing multi-cultural and diverse world-class entertainment offerings ranging from musical concerts to entertainment shows, cinemas, and theme parks. GEA hosted a major Bollywood-themed festival and has partnered with Korea's Lotte World to build a theme park. A Six Flags theme park is expected in the Kingdom by 2022. Other major events include concerts by prominent Western artists and the unique circus experience, Cirque du Soleil. Regional artists have also performed in the Kingdom on several occasions including the 80ʼs Kuwaiti musical festival as well as concerts by renowned Iraqi and Egyptian singers and performers. Locally-created festivals are also featured on GEA's agenda and a program is especially dedicated to discover local talents. Knowledge transfer and dialogue will be at the core of establishing this diverse offering. Since its establishment, GEA has sought to attract experienced investors from around the world, and forge partnerships and strategic alliances with international entertainment companies seeking to harness their experience and know-how, at the same time, retaining knowledge in order to ensure the sector's long-term sustainability.
- The writer is CEO of Saudi Arabia's General Entertainment Authority

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