Saudi Arabia’s Dealmaking Ambitions Grow Despite Backlash – The Hollywood Reporter

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Saudi Arabia and its sovereign wealth funds have quietly, and sometimes not so quietly, built a multi-billion dollar foothold in Hollywood. washington post Columnist Jamal Khashoggi.

This time, Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, overseen by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud, and other Saudi-affiliated companies have made live entertainment, rich financial investments and sports a gateway to the American market. He seems to be betting on getting it.

In January alone, PIF-backed LIV Golf won an important US broadcast television show. agreement On The CW, government-owned Middle Eastern broadcast giant MBC Group cuts transaction We worked with Vice Media to create content in Arabic. Saudi football team Al Nasr has signed Portuguese superstar Cristiano Ronaldo for $200 million a year. And if December’s second edition of the Red Sea Film Festival, held in the coastal city of Jeddah, has passed, the country’s cold days have come to an end when it comes to its relationship with Hollywood.With Sharon Stone, Guy Ritchie, Spike Lee, Michelle Rodriguez, Henry Golding, Lucy Hale, Andrew Dominic and Scott Eastwood in attendance, the opening red carpet is set to impress Cannes. Welcomed Enough Stars. Searchlight’s Inishelin’s Banshee When empire of lightneon sorrow triangle and MGM’s bones and all I was in a movie screening.

The one movie that didn’t screen was Kandahar, Gerard Butler’s action film directed by Rick Roman Waugh, has become the largest Hollywood feature film shot entirely in Saudi Arabia in 2021. The movie, which follows an undercover CIA operative in him who must fight to get out of Afghanistan, may not sound like your typical festive occasion, but… hollywood reporter We understand that the programmers wanted to bring the Open Road title to Jeddah to showcase the country’s burgeoning filmmaking aspirations, but dates didn’t work out. (Kandahar Butler, who produces through G-Base’s banner, was one of the first Hollywood celebrities to cancel a trip to Saudi Arabia in 2018. Aftermath of his Khashoggi murder in October 2018.

Another film currently in post-production starring Anthony Mackie desert warrior With a reported budget of over $120 million, most of it was filmed in the Neom region, a touted $500 billion megacity. Kandahar Mostly shot in AlUla. This beautiful natural area is now highly advertised as a filming location.

in the meantime desert warrior When Kandajar is the flag bearer for Saudi Arabia to emerge from the darkness of cinema, very well-funded, and has replaced Jordan, Morocco, Abu Dhabi, etc. with a few dunes, more major Hollywood-needed producers I hope to take it away as a de facto filming location. The project is practically inevitable.

Or consider the big win of LIV Golf, one of the country’s most high-profile US efforts. LIV Golf is a rival to the PGA Tour, fully funded by the PIF for billions of dollars. LIV has poached famous PGA stars such as Phil Mickelson, Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka and Bryson DeChambeau. The tour was the only YouTube channel available in the US before he signed a deal with Nextor-owned CW to broadcast his 14 LIV tournaments a year on January 19th.

Guggenheim analyst says it’s a ‘win-win’ for both network and tour curry baker. LIV should benefit from the nationwide distribution and exposure the deal provides, while Nexstar will get hours of content on what is believed to be a revenue-sharing basis. (Nexstar gets live sports, which is believed to be revenue-sharing-based, and hours of content to meet its schedule.) The CW isn’t ESPN, CBS, or NBC, but it’s still a national broadcast network. is a big improvement. for the tour.

Of course, the growing presence of Saudi money in the entertainment industry has attracted the attention of groups who believe the state has not accounted for the circumstances of Khashoggi’s murder. I am a minority shareholder. THR Owner PMC.)

The LIV-CW deal has brought these concerns back to the forefront, especially as Nexstar is firmly committed to the news business on its local TV station and cable channel NewsNation.

“A company that makes money on news like Nexter participates in shameful PR stunts like LIV Golf that are fundamentally designed to restore the Saudi reputation,” said Jen Judson, president of the National Press Club. “We are wondering if there is anything Nexstar stands for. You cannot have a brand in the news and act like this… We urge Nexstar to do the right thing and cancel the bloody golf show and if they don’t drop the program here is what we can do: don’t watch it. And write to each sponsor asking them not to sponsor.”

LIV CEO Greg Norman Appears January 20th new nation to answer the dispute. Asked by anchor Dan Abrams if he thought the Saudis had “learned from their mistakes,” Norman replied, “Yes, they are.”

“I have been building golf courses in Saudi Arabia. Because they value golf as a force for good, and it’s proving that today in their country.”

But LIV is just a small piece of the puzzle being built by PIF. Sovereign Fund has been cited as a potential buyer for his WWE exploring strategic options (WWE already hosts a major annual event in Saudi Arabia called Crown Jewels). For example, Endeavor and his CAA) were interested.

If WWE were sold to a private company, “I don’t think it’s the best time in the current market to be sovereign wealth money raising debt for private equity. [interest] A Wall Street observer added that the PIF, which is notoriously difficult to work with Vince McMahon, might be more willing to put up with.

And PIF has used the public market to covertly amass significant stakes in various companies with Hollywood ties. In addition to holding stakes in technology giants such as Alphabet, Amazon, Meta Platforms Inc. and Microsoft, the fund owns approximately $1 billion in shares of Live Nation Entertainment (approximately 5.5% of the company), second only to Liberty Media. It is one of the largest shareholders. .

With PIF owning more than $1.2 billion in Take-Two Interactive, more than $2 billion in Electronic Arts and $2.8 billion in Activision Blizzard, video games appear to be an area of ​​interest for the fund. PIF also acquired a majority stake in virtual/augmented reality technology company Magic Leap late last year.

After Khashoggi’s murder in 2018, many American companies (including those in Hollywood) pulled out of deals with the PIF and other Saudi organizations. In early 2019, WME and UFC owner Endeavor returned his $400 million investment from the fund.

Since that moment, however, although its Hollywood presence has waned, the PIF has used the pandemic to dramatically expand its investments in the United States, according to a review of its public offering filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission. In October 2019, PIF’s only U.S.-listed investments were Tesla and Uber.

A year later, in October 2020, it took advantage of a pandemic-hit economy to acquire a stake in Live Nation, adding to its large video game and technology holdings by October 2021.

With film festivals attracting Hollywood heavyweights, content deals with US companies, and an investment list that includes some of the most powerful companies in games and technology, the country’s persona-non-grata status seems to be over. As industry sources say THRIn the last few months, Hollywood companies that would have been concerned about a potential PR hit “suddenly felt much more open to doing business with Saudi Arabia.

A version of this story first appeared in the January 27 issue of hollywood reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.

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