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A number of media figures and organizations have joined the growing list of major partners pulling out of a high-profile event in Saudi Arabia as the disappearance — and possible murder — of dissident Jamal Khashoggi draws continued condemnation from all around the world.
On Friday, STX CEO Robert Simonds became the latest executive to drop out of the FII conference in Riyadh. This was following a media exodus that included Viacom’s Bob Bakish, Los Angeles Times owner Patrick Soon-Shiong and CNBC anchor Andrew Ross Sorkin cutting ties with the event.
When contacted by The Hollywood Reporter, multiple outlets with business interests in Saudi Arabia — including WME, AMC, Imax, World Wrestling Entertainment and others — either refused to comment on the Khashoggi situation or issued statements saying they are “monitoring the situation.”
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had been praised for his efforts to reform Saudi Arabia’s historically repressive culture and open up his previously insular country to outside investment. Among the reforms touted by the Prince, which include allowing women to drive and attend soccer games, Hollywood was perhaps most enthusiastic about the removal of a 35-year ban on theatrical movies, which was celebrated with a gala screening of Marvel’s Black Panther in Riyadh on April 18.
The removal of the ban ostensibly created an entirely new theatrical market for Hollywood, with analysts predicting that Saudi Arabia’s untapped market could reach $1 billion in ticket sales (making it the 10th biggest globally), and, much like other regional box offices, U.S. studio fare is likely to dominate.
A flurry of business deals between Hollywood and the Middle Eastern kingdom kicked off in January with reports that Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund was acquiring a five to 10 percent stake in WME holding company Endeavor for $400 million. In December, AMC Entertainment announced that it had signed a non-binding Memorandum of Understanding to explore building theaters in Saudi Arabia. Following a live entertainment pact with Cirque du Soleil in April, Imax and Dubai-based VOX Cinemas, in May, unveiled a four-theater deal to become the country’s second cinema chain.
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