Due to coronavirus concerns movie theaters have been shuttered across most of the Middle East where the United Arab Emirates, which is the region’s top market, on Saturday also announced closure of Hollywood theme parks including Warner Bros. World Abu Dhabi and the Legoland Waterpark in Dubai.
Across the Middle East and North Africa the only countries where cinemas currently remain open are Egypt, Bahrain, Oman, Jordan and Syria.
“As cinemas are closed, now is a good time to binge on all of our good titles available on VOD from the comfort of your own homes,” said Gianluca Chakra, head of Dubai-based Middle East distributor Front Row Filmed Entertainment, in a Facebook post.
“We wish everyone a safe journey in this difficult time.”
In Dubai movie theaters were ordered to stop operating by authorities on Sunday, after Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, and Morocco, among other countries, ordered a shutdown of cinemas earlier in the week.
In Egypt, instead, which is the region’s production powerhouse and yields significant box office especially for local titles, movie theaters remained open over the weekend. Though receipts “obviously decreased significantly,” said prominent producer and Cairo Film Festival president Mohamed Hefzy on Monday morning.
Hefzy was on his way to a board meeting at Egypt’s Chamber of Cinema where a decision on how the country’s cinemas will handle the coronavirus crisis going forward will be taken. Closure of cinemas in Egypt is also deemed imminent, while impact on production remains to be seen.
“It’s a really confusing period as it’s never happened before in the history of humans: a worldwide shutdown!,” said Egyptian analyst and distributor Alaa Karkouti, who added that, while it’s too early to gauge the impact of the coronavirus crisis on the industry in the MENA region “It will be very good business for online platforms and social media.”
There are currently 98 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the UAE; 118 cases in Saudi; and 126 in Egypt, where there have also been 2 deaths due to the virus, according to the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center.
Box office receipts in MENA in 2019 ranged between $550 and $600 million, which is relatively small. But a twofold increase is projected to occur in the region by 2023 thanks to the boom in Saudi Arabia, according to a recent IHS Markit report.