16 Hollywood and Media Deals With Saudi Arabia – And Where They Now Stand

The fate of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi threatens the kingdom’s modernization plans

Last Updated: October 21, 2018 @ 8:58 AM

The Saudi crown prince Mohammed Bin Salman’s charm offensive earlier this year to lure investors and transform his country’s image has all but crumbled in the face of the disappearance and likely murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi at a Saudi consulate in Turkey.

A growing number of Hollywood and U.S. media companies are now backing out of business deals with Saudi Arabia and the crown prince, known by his initials MBS, after Turkish officials concluded that Khashoggi was murdered by Saudi operatives inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2.

Here is a list of the Hollywood and Media deals with Saudi Arabia – and where they stand now.

Richard Branson 

British entrepreneur Richard Branson announced he would freeze ties with the kingdom until more details are known about Khashoggi’s disappearance.

“While those investigations are ongoing and Mr. Khashoggi’s whereabouts are not known, I will suspend my directorships of the two tourism projects,” Branson said in a statement on Oct. 11. “Virgin will also suspend its discussions with the Public Investment Fund over the proposed investment in our space companies Virgin Galactic and Virgin Orbit.”

The Financial Times reported the Saudi government announced Tuesday it was canceling a planned feasibility study for a high-speed transportation system with the company in response to Branson’s statement. But CNBC reports that the negotiations are still underway.

The company did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Harbour Group

Leading D.C. lobbying firm representing the Saudi government’s interests, the Harbour Group, announced on Oct. 11 it was terminating its $80,000-a-month contract with the kingdom.

Endeavor 

WME parent company Endeavor, one of Hollywood’s top talent agencies, said on Oct. 15 it was preparing to withdraw from its $400 million financing deal with the Saudi Arabian government.

An individual with knowledge of the situation told TheWrap Monday the company is in the process of pulling out of its deal, though the logistics have not been resolved.

Gerard Butler 

Actor Gerard Butler pulled out of a trip to Saudi Arabia to promote his new movie “Hunter Killer” following  Khashoggi’s disappearance.

Butler was expected to arrive in Riyadh for interviews with a few news outlets before he attended the premiere for the thriller. His representative told TheWrap that after he learned about news regarding Khashoggi he decided to forego the trip.

‘Davos in the Desert’

A large number of companies and individuals pulled out of the high-powered Future Investment Initiative conference in Riyadh, dubbed “Davos in the Desert,” to be hosted by the Crown Prince and the kingdom’s sovereign wealth fund later this month.

The New York Times, Bloomberg, CNN, CNBC, the Financial Times and Nikkei withdrew as media sponsors, as did the owner of the Los Angeles Times, Patrick Soon-Shiong. Media executive Arianna Huffington, an advisory board member for the conference, The Economist‘s editor-in-chief Zanny Minton Beddoes and Viacom CEO Bob Bakish also canceled their appearances.

Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi said Thursday that he was “troubled by the reports” and would not attend the conference “unless a substantially different set of facts emerges.”

Just hours after Hollywood movie financier-turned Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin pulled out of the conference on Oct. 18, Fox Business Channel, one of the last holdouts, announced it too was withdrawing as an event sponsor.

Meanwhile, Swedish-Swiss technology company ABB said it was “carefully monitoring developments” before making any decisions.

Steven Mnuchin/Getty

AMC

AMC Theaters struck a lucrative deal to build the kingdom’s first-ever movie theater in April. The company has plans to open 40 more theaters in the kingdom within the next five years with the aim to reach 100 locations by 2030.

AMC declined to comment.

Penske Media Corp. 

In February, Penske, which owns Hollywood trades Variety and Deadline among other publications, received a $200 million investment from Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund. But the company declined to comment about whether it will reassess the investment.

World Wrestling Entertainment 

WWE, which is due to return to Saudi Arabia on Nov. 2 for its “Crown Jewel” wrestling event, told TheWrap in statement that it’s “currently monitoring the situation.”

IMAX 

In May, IMAX announced the signing of a multi-theater deal with Vox Cinemas, as the premium screening format planned to expand into Saudi Arabia. But a person with knowledge of the situation told TheWrap Sunday that plans to build more movie theaters in the kingdom, which have been mired in red tape, will likely be put on “pause” following Khashoggi’s disappearance.

Vox

Vox, a United Arab Emirates-based movie theater chain, often received revenue from rich Saudis who traveled to Dubai on weekends while KSA’s cinema ban was in effect. They, along with AMC, got the inside track on negotiations to build cineplexes in the country and are currently the only two chains with the license from the government to do so. Vox has declined to comment.

Feld Entertainment 

Feld Entertainment, a Florida-based live touring company, entered into discussions with the The Saudi General Entertainment Authority earlier this year to bring international events, including “Disney on Ice,” “Disney Live,” “Marvel Experience,” and “Monster Jam” to the kingdom.

The company told TheWrap Thursday it had not signed any deals with the Saudis but that it was “still in conversation” with the kingdom. The company did not wish to comment further.

iPic

In March, the Florida-based luxury movie theater chain had announced it had partnered with Saudi firm BAS Global Investments Co. to develop cinemas and restaurants throughout the kingdom. An iPic rep told TheWrap Wednesday that it had “no further updates” on the deal.

Nat Geo 

In April, National Geographic announced it was partnering with the General Entertainment Authority of Saudi Arabia to develop and launch several locations for its “Ocean Odyssey,” a walk-through virtual-reality zoo focused on marine wildlife starting in 2019.

Reps for Nat Geo media told TheWrap they “don’t have an answer yet” on whether the partnership will continue.

Cirque du Soleil One for One

Cirque du Soleil

The iconic live entertainment brand had its first performance in Saudi Arabia on Sept. 23, just before Khashoggi went missing. The production was designed exclusively for Saudi National Day, at the King Fahd Stadium in Riyadh, for a live and televised audience. It is unclear whether the company has any more performances planned in Saudi Arabia. Reps for the company did no immediately respond to a request for comment.

IMG Artists

The performing arts, social media, and festival and events management company, signed a letter of intent to bring large-scale festivals to the kingdom.

A rep for IMG told TheWrap Thursday that the deal went “stale” shortly after it was signed folloing “changes” in the monarchy’s 2030 Vision campaign, the Saudi initiative seeking to make the historically closed kingdom less economically reliant on oil profits.

“That slowed us down,” a spokesman said. “Nothing happened after that letter.”