Hollywood Reaps Dividends From Saudi Prince's U.S. Goodwill Tour

(Bloomberg) -- Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s goodwill tour of Hollywood is starting to pay dividends.

The Saudi General Entertainment Authority on Wednesday announced deals to bring shows from Cirque du Soleil, Feld Entertainment Inc. and National Geographic to the country, part of an effort to diversify its economy. Earlier, AMC Entertainment Holdings Inc. announced plans for as many as 100 theaters.

An estimated 200 film and TV producers and dealmakers turned out in Beverly Hills, California, to hear presentations from the entertainment authority. The event was held at the Four Seasons Hotel, fronted by a statue of Marilyn Monroe in her immortal pose from “The Seven Year Itch,” with a blast of wind from a subway lifting her skirt.

Under the accords, Cirque du Soleil will bring high-wire acts to the capital Riyadh, while closely held Feld Entertainment will stage productions such as “Disney on Ice” using local performers. National Geographic Encounter plans events in 10 locations and IMG Artists will create custom programs. The Marvel Experience will open later this year in Jeddah and Riyadh. The government plans to build venues for entertainment.

“We have seen tremendous interest from the private sector,” Ibrahim Al Omar, governor of the Saudi Arabian General Investment Authority, said in an interview. Officials have met with more than 180 companies since the start of their visit, he said.

On Thursday the delegation travels to San Francisco.

“The objective is to open the whole market” to investment, with the exception of some sensitive sectors, Al Omar said. The government wants to promote a “friendly business environment” and draw international visitors, he said.

For U.S. companies like AMC Entertainment, which said Wednesday it was granted the first license to operate a commercial theater in Saudi Arabia in more than three decades, the opportunity to tap into a young, affluent population with few other distractions is enticing. AMC estimated the movie market could reach $1 billion in revenue in a few years.

The country is aiming for 200 to 300 theaters by 2030, each with an average of seven screens, Faisal Bafarat, chief executive officer of the General Entertainment Authority, said in an interview. Bafarat said the country has major ambitions for its entertainment industry.

“The Saudi consumer is used to American movies,” he said.

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