- Governments and investors in the Middle East are pouring money into Western media and entertainment.
- US investors are eager to take the money as other sources of funding have dried up.
- Insider broke down the sources of funding from Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.
Sovereign wealth funds and other entities in Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the UAE are pouring millions into American media and entertainment, and they’re finding plenty.
The focus is on investment from Saudi Arabia, which is pouring money into entertainment, tourism and other industries to diversify its economy and cast itself as a cultural reformer. Many industry stakeholders who spoke to Insider described the Saudis as disciplined and sophisticated investors who see entertainment as an economic accelerator. The Saudi regime also seeks to gain cultural capital by promoting and promoting projects that present the kingdom positively to outsiders.
That funding might not have been so welcome five years ago, when the killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, which the US government blamed on Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, sparked outrage. Endeavor, the parent company of talent agency WME, the UFC and other sports and media businesses, returned a $400 million investment to the Saudis, while other American companies cut ties with Saudi Arabia. But time passed and some other sources of investment dried up.
Money channels from Saudi Arabia and other parts of the Middle East are complex. Alongside countries’ sovereign wealth funds, there are countless private sources, but the lines between public and private are often blurred. In the UAE, for example, investment group IMI — which has interests in US media, including Jimmy Finkelstein’s startup The Messenger — is part of the Abu Dhabi Media Investment Corporation, which is owned by a member of Abu Dhabi’s ruling family and also has personal investments in sports .
Insider broke down the key entities — their owners, leaders and high-profile investments and joint ventures — in the top three Middle Eastern countries pouring money into US entertainment and media. Here’s a guide to who gives the money and who benefits.
Public Investment Fund (PIF)
The PIF is Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund with over $600 billion in assets. It is led by Governor Yassir Al-Rumayan, who is also chairman of oil company Saudi Aramco and chairman of Newcastle United – PIF led the $409m purchase of the English football club, acquiring an 80% stake in 2021.
Among its US media and entertainment assets, PIF took a nearly 6% stake in Live Nation in 2020 for $500 million. And it rocked the professional golf world in 2022 with the launch of LIV, a new professional league competing with the PGA that has weathered a host of controversies over its ties to Saudi Arabia.
MBC Group is a television giant that is reportedly at least 60% owned by the Saudi government. It describes itself as the largest media company in the Middle East and North Africa and operates one of the largest television news channels, Al Arabiya. The company operates general entertainment streaming service Shahid, which it claims is bigger than Netflix in terms of subscribers in the region.
In January, MBC struck a programming deal with Vice Media that could be worth $50 million over time, although MBC has editorial control in the region, according to an interview with Variety. One of Vice’s other backers, the Netherlands-based Antenna Group, which operates free-to-air channels in Greece, also considers MBC as an investor. MBC has a 30 percent stake in the venture, according to reports.
The founder and chairman of MBC Group is Saudi businessman Waleed bin Ibrahim Al Ibrahim. Its Dubai-based CEO is Sam Barnett, who returned to the company in 2020 after stepping down as CEO in 2019. Former MBC managing director Peter Smith — who was previously CEO at Antenna Group, CEO of Cineflex Studios and NBCUniversal International president — left the role in January and was succeeded in February by former Amazon, Cineflex and AMC executive Christina Wayne.
Saudi Research and Media Group (SRMG)
Publicly traded player SRMG is a major publisher of print and online magazines and manages marketing operations. It has close ties to the Saudi government of Mohammed bin Salman. Its CEO is Jomana R. Alrashid, who is also the chairman of the Red Sea International Film Festival Foundation, which is co-producing Johnny Depp’s upcoming feature film, Jeanne du Barry. The second Red Sea Festival in Jeddah in December attracted the likes of Sharon Stone, Bruno Mars and Luca Guadagnino, with a third edition planned for November.
Penske Media Corporation, the publisher of Deadline, Variety and other entertainment trade magazines, took an investment from SRMG, and Bloomberg Media partnered with the company at an October summit in Riyadh.
Vince McMahon’s WWE was one of the first American companies to create unique events in Saudi Arabia. It has an agreement with the country’s General Entertainment Authority, chaired by Turki Al-Sheikh, to work together until 2027 and has committed to a major annual event.
Fund for the development of culture
Another Saudi investment source is the Cultural Development Fund, founded in 2021, which in March announced the launch of its $233 million film sector financing program to support local and international companies that want to support the Saudi film sector. The fund’s CEO is Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Dayel, who holds degrees from George Washington University and American University.
Qatar Investment Authority
Headquartered in Doha, the country’s main investment vehicle is the Qatar Investment Authority, or QIA, which is headed by Hassan Al-Tawadi. Among its more recent investments is a $150 million growth capital infusion with Peter Chernin and Providence Equity’s production group The North Road.
BeIN Media Group
BeIN is Qatar’s state-owned sports and entertainment network, broadcasting to the Middle East, Europe, the Americas and elsewhere. It was founded in 2014 and is headed by Nasser Al-Khelaifi, also president of Paris Saint-Germain football club. In 2016, BeIN acquired film studio Miramax for an undisclosed sum, selling 49% of it in 2020 to ViacomCBS (now Paramount Global).
Doha Film Institute
The Doha Film Institute focuses on the development of the Qatari film industry. Founded in 2010 by H.E. Sheikha Al Mayassa bint Hamad bin Khalifa Al-Thani, she supported independent films including the animated drama Loving Vincent and Asghar Farhadi’s Oscar-winning The Salesman. In 2013, it struck a $100 million deal with Participant Media to produce 12 or more films a year, but the venture was later canceled, according to The Hollywood Reporter.
United Arab Emirates
Abu Dhabi Investment Authority
The UAE has accelerated its efforts to become a media and entertainment hub that is welcoming to Western companies. The Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, a state investment fund, has been partnering with Hollywood studios on projects since 2008. And Dubai Studio City has hosted major productions including “Star Trek Beyond” and “Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol,” while Dubai Media City is home to companies such as National Geographic and BBC News.
International media investments
International Media Investments (IMI) is a private equity firm whose portfolio includes The National newspaper, CNN Business Arabic and stakes in Sky News Arabia and Euronews. Led by CEO Nart Bouran, a veteran of Sky News Arabia and Reuters, it has a minority investment in JAF Communications, Jimmy Finkelstein’s company that owns news startup The Messenger; IMI was a backer of US think tank Grid News, which JAF acquired in March and is now closed, according to Axios. IMI also partnered with former CNN chief Jeff Zucker and RedBird Capital Partners in RedBird IMI to invest in media and entertainment.
IMI is a subsidiary of Abu Dhabi Media Investment Corporation, which is owned by Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, also known as Sheikh Mansour, a member of the Abu Dhabi ruling family who also has significant personal investments in sports, most notably football. Manchester City.