Muvi Cinemas – Magic of the Silver Screen
Muvi Cinemas tell us how they are helping the explosive growth of the Saudi cinema sector.
The Saudi cinema industry is a surprisingly young one, with cinema in Saudi Arabia being banned until only a few years ago. However, as soon as the laws prohibiting cinema were rolled back, the demand for it was immediately apparent. This is the market that Muvi Cinemas stepped into.
“Muvi Cinemas is the first homegrown Saudi cinema brand,” points out Adon Quinn, Deputy CEO of Muvi Cinemas. “When the time came for cinemas to be allowed to operate again in the Kingdom, we looked at this opportunity and whether we could compete with the global players. We saw an opportunity to create a Saudi cinema brand. We were the fifth operator to receive the cinema licence and opened a location in Jeddah in August 2019.”
Soon after that Muvi Cinemas opened three more locations, only for cinemas to be closed once again in March 2020 in response to the pandemic. However, even with the closure of cinemas Muvi has continued with its construction projects and has successfully opened six more locations in the latter part of 2020. Today the chain boasts 109 screens, and the majority of its staff are local Saudi talent, aiming to achieve 90% in the short term.
“That’s been one of the real highlights,” Quinn tells us. “Seeing the development of the talent in a new industry in the Kingdom.”
An Industry from Whole Cloth
Bringing cinema to Saudi Arabia is not just about opening cinemas, however, and Muvi is looking to get involved in every aspect of the industry, including distribution and production.
“With our expansion and the number of screens across the Kingdom, we needed to have someone who can get films across the Kingdom,” Quinn says. “In terms of distribution there was a major player, Front Row, and with them, we developed Front Row Arabia. It brings a lot of independent content as well as regional films to the Kingdom.”
Of course, as much as there is a demand for cinema, there is also a demand for people to see films and stories that reflect their own lives, and that is why Muvi is also helping to drive a homegrown film production industry.
“On the production side, we saw the need to develop local cinema content. We have seen strong numbers in Arabic language movies, mainly films coming out of Egypt. Early this year we had a film that became the number one performing film of all time since Saudi cinema has been reopened,” Quinn says. “We see that need for strong local content, and that’s where we looked at partnerships in production, developing quality on-screen content. We see it as very much a market where English is a second language, and a lot of the box office returns are non-Hollywood content.”
Of course, each of these sectors requires its own unique skills and expertise. Finding that can be a challenge for an industry that simply did not exist in the country a few years ago.
“It’s very much a mix of finding strong local talent and expertise from international or ex-pats,” says Quinn. “To get into distribution and production instead of trying to do it all ourselves we’ve found strong partners to work together with.”
A Cinematic Explosion
Muvi Cinemas plans hint at truly astounding growth, but while its plans might seem ambitious, Quinn is quick to point out that the company is barely keeping up with demand.
“We plan to have another 284 screens by end of 2022,” he says. “One of the major reasons is the current number of screens across the Kingdom is 387 but that is conservative in terms of the total screens required. If you are looking at screens per 100,000 capita the requirement is in excess of 2,000 screens. Even with the pandemic occupancy numbers have remained very high. There is a massive need for more screens. There are no tickets at any locations unless you book early. We believe 2,000 screens is what the market needs and even with restrictions and film delays, we believe now is the time. The market needs it, the population needs it.”
Of course, rapid expansion on this scale is going to bring challenges with it. It is a new market, and even in building the cinemas, there are very few construction contractors with the relevant skills and experience, creating restrictions in terms of capacity.
“We have got a strong internal team working with three or four main contractors to develop that with the capacity to build multiple sites at the same time,” Quinn tells us. “Cinema is a new industry for the labour force, and I think what we’ve been doing is investing in local talent. It has been promising, the quality of staff and the commitment we have found in the market. We’ve been developing our own internal Muvi academy training people in the necessary customer service skill set and the technical skills necessary for running a cinema.”
While Quinn is the first to point out that building this new workforce is a challenge, the team they are building is a proudly Saudi one.
“With the workforce, in Saudi Arabia over 75% of our staff are Saudi,” he says. “It’s a very new industry for them and that’s where we’ve been able to develop it so people can see a career. Since we began, we have had seven staff who started from entry-level and have now moved into management. We see that as a continuing career progression, developing the skillset on joining as well as our leadership academy we have inhouse turning our front of house team into future leaders.”
Muvi Cinemas has been an early player in a rapidly growing industry, and Quinn is confident that puts them in a strong position for the next phase of the company’s development.
“With what we’re doing on the distribution and production side it puts us in a strong position to be more than just a cinema exhibitor. We look at ourselves as an entertainment front,” he says. “There’s potential growth outside of Saudi Arabia. We are always looking at opportunities outside whether in the GCC or beyond. We’re taking cinema from where it was to the next step and continuing to invest in the best experience in terms of bringing in Dolby cinema, a range of experiences across the market and introducing boutique cinema as well.”