Saudi Entertainment Ventures Company (Seven) is a young company moving fast to provide something that is new for many people in Saudi Arabia: entertainment. “Our job is to be the entertainment champion for the country. That is our mission,” says CEO Bill Ernest.
The company has strong backing. Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) announced plans for an entertainment group in December 2017 and then launched Seven in November last year.
Seven’s mandate is an ambitious one. It is aiming for its projects to serve more than 50 million visitors a year, provide more than 22,000 direct jobs and contribute SR8bn ($2.1bn) to the kingdom’s GDP by 2030.
With little entertainment infrastructure existing in the kingdom, building new destinations is critical to Seven achieving its mission. “We know we need to build 20 of these, and right now we are framing out the model of when things can be developed, so it is still early days. That blue-sky phase means we have a lot to do, and over next three to six months we are going to be a lot closer to knowing what gets built and what the roll-out schedule starts to look like.”
Seven launched its first entertainment destination at the start of this year on 100,000 square metres (sq m) of land in Riyadh, on the Eastern Ring Road, at the intersection with King Abdullah Road. “It is a great piece of land with great strategic value. It is right near the population centre, so we are doing a lot of work to build in the right areas for the people of Saudi Arabia first, and then take on some tourist opportunities down the road, too,” says Ernest.
Al-Aziziyah amusement park
In early May, Seven launched its largest project to date: its first amusement park, in Al-Aziziyah in the Eastern Province. It will cover an area of 1 million sq m. At the same time, the company announced six movie theatres and three other entertainment destinations in the Eastern Province. These new entertainment destinations will be located in Dammam, Khobar and Al-Ahsa and will feature sports areas, movie theatres, green areas and water sports facilities, similar to the Riyadh project.
The announcement of its first projects this year followed an agreement last year with US-based AMC to operate AMC Cinemas in the kingdom. That agreement resulted in the opening of the first cinema in Saudi Arabia for more than 35 years, in April 2018.
“AMC is the world’s largest cinema operator and it was important for us to get the right joint venture partner. We are opening seven new cinemas in 2019. Then our goal is to have 50 by 2022. That is roughly 450 screens, so it is a fairly tall order. AMC thinks it is – it is excited to be part of it. It is a great partnership and we have been working with them very closely,” says Ernest.
Looking ahead, with so much to do in a country that is changing quickly, it is important for Seven to remain flexible. “The worst thing we could do is build a product that is static and not changeable. In our case, we are trying to have a product that stays current and relevant, and you can change it as trends change,” says Ernest. “We are trying to be as forward-thinking as possible when it comes to the product that goes in there.”