Newspapers around the world are replete with various stories about Saudi Arabia’s economy, oil, and its geo-political equation with various countries. However, there are not many stories which cover the existing and thriving entertainment sector in the country. Since the 1980s, this sector has been expanding to include the various cultural aspects of Saudi Arabia.
A healthy debate is going on over social media and Saudi arenas about promoting and harnessing entertainment opportunities in the Kingdom. Unarguably, entertainment as a concept is important for all societies, and its people.
Keeping note of that, the Saudi Arabian government has taken multiple steps to encourage more entertainment options for its citizens. An entire ministry dedicated to enhancing this sector exists in Saudi Arabia.
The General Entertainment Authority (GAE) was created with several objectives in mind: decreasing the unemployment rate from 11.6 percent to 7 percent; improving domestic tourism, in sync with the Saudi Vision 2030, and supporting indigenous festivities and activities, as tourism for entertainment purposes; activating the role of government capital to develop centres of entertainment; boosting local and international investors to invest in Saudi Arabia; assigning lands for libraries and museums; supporting talented writers, directors and authors.
The ministry is working towards breaking stereotypes about the entertainment industry that exist in Saudi Arabia today. The above mentioned activities are all geared towards making the entertainment sector in the country as one of the best in the world.
From organizing the 4th Saudi Arabian annual film festival that show cased the local films made in the country, inviting international artists like Toby Keith and Justin Bieber to perform, to the organizing of the first ever coffee and chocolate festival, the country is unquestionably expanding the basket of choices being offered to its citizens.
The Government of Saudi Arabia has tied up with various global entertainment companies to construct and conceptualize entertainment avenues. For instance, Six Flags Entertainment Corp will be opening three theme parks in the country. The first one is scheduled to be opened in Riyadh by 2022. According to recent media reports, the parks, construction of which would cost between $300 and $500 million each, will be owned by the Saudi government. The kingdom's sovereign wealth fund, known as the Public Investment Fund, will be main the funder of the project.
Projects like these are an effort by the Kingdom to diversify their economy, as these parks will offer the youth more employment opportunities. The construction of the project is likely to begin early next year. This new sports and entertainment city, will have four segments – an entertainment area, a car sports area, a general sports area and a housing and hospitality area which are together expected to offer cultural, sporting and entertainment opportunities to the citizens.
The General Authority for Entertainment (GAE) has been working relentlessly to introduce the Saudi public to new forms of entertainment that takes the Saudi cultural life into newer dimensions.
In 2016, 166 artistic performances and plays were performed and attended by half a million visitors. It brought revenues of over 43 Million Saudi Riyal. The audiences enjoyed WWE matches, the Monster Jam, a popular live motorsport event, food festivals, and other international performances. The kingdom also hosted graffiti drawing competitions in December 2016, which attracted large audiences and interest.
This year too various international performances including those by Cirque Du Soleil, world’s largest theatrical producer among many others are slated to be scheduled. These are expected to draw an estimated 2 million visitors in 15 cities of Saudi Arabia.
Saudi Arabia in February 2017, hosted its first ever Comic Con event in Jeddah which was attended by men and women from all across the country. It also hosted its first ever YouTube fan fest. The platform's launch event was held in Riyadh and brought together some of the contributing creators. They shared their YouTube video blogging experiences: from the things that triggered their debut, to their journeys as they rose to YouTube stardom. The event also included workshops about creating successful YouTube channels and producing content that appeals to the masses. Interestingly, more than 50 channels in Middle East and North Africa (MENA) have more than one million subscribers, more than 20 of which are in Saudi Arabia.
The country also hosts an annual cultural festival called Al-Janadriyah. With a wide display of cultural activities including folklore arts, horse racing, poetry and music, the festival captures the culture and heritage of Saudi Arabia. Heritage sports like camel racing, and other events like art and poetry recitation witness the participation of famous poets and artistes.
With such enabling steps taken by Saudi Arabia to enhance entertainment opportunities in the country, the sector is likely to go a long way in not just entertaining its citizens but also increasing tourism, attracting investments, creating business partnerships and most importantly creating employment opportunities for its youth that comprise of 70% of the total population of the country.
Development in Saudi Arabia is not solely limited to the economic aspects but extends to building a balanced and healthy society capable of achieving greater heights. The strides being made in the entertainment sector are testament to that fact.