Saudi Arabia’s plans to lift its three-decade ban on commercial cinemas have received widespread support, with many of those residing in the kingdom planning to visit theatres, according to a new survey.
The kingdom announced plans to lift the ban, enacted under pressure from Islamists in the 1980s, earlier this month and said the first theatres could start showing films as early as March.
Research agency Kantar TNS said 80 per cent of respondents to its survey supported the change and 67 per cent intended to visit cinemas when they opened.
Stephen Hillebrand, CEO of Kantar Insights for the Middle East North Africa and Pakistan, said the company expected a “huge turnout” to theatres in the initial days and weeks after they open.
More than half of those planning to visit cinemas intend to do so within the opening week, presenting cinema-branding opportunities for advertisers, according to the organisation.
However, it warned that television advertising could be negatively impacted during weekends and malls without screens could see a decline in footfall.
Nine in 10 respondents said they planned to visit malls with cinemas more often and most planning to go to the movies intend to do so for the 7pm-10pm slot.
Hillebrand said brands should also be wary of tapping into negative sentiment given that 18 per cent of residents are concerned by the change.
But the company indicated it would be good news for local content producers given that 36 per cent of those intending to visit theatres plan to view local Saudi content and 48 per cent Arabic content.
In contrast, 80 per cent intend to watch Hollywood films and 44 per cent Bollywood films.
“There are few markets in the world at the moment as dynamic and fast moving as KSA. The speed of change is unprecedented, and the compound effect of the changes makes for a fascinating time in assessing the impact on both citizen beliefs and consumer behaviours,” Hillebrand said.
The change was ranked the second most popular reform by the Saudi government so far with 31 per cent of the vote, compared to 58 per cent for the lifting of the female driving ban, 6 per cent for the allowing of women to enter sports events and 5 per cent for the opening of concerts and theatres.