Saudi Arabia buying into Hollywood powerhouse talent agency
Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MbS), the crown prince and de facto absolute ruler of Saudi Arabia, continues to surprise and amaze with his moves to drag the kingdom out of the seventh century. He is currently visiting the United States and was interviewed at length last night on 60 Minutes and is slated to visit President Trump in the White House tomorrow.
MbS visited President Trump one year ago, 3-17-17.
The most potent weapon available to him is money. And the latest deployment of that weapon is in what the Wahhabi clergy of the kingdom must regard as the very seat of Satan: Hollywood. Bloomberg reports:
Saudi Arabia's sovereign wealth fund is taking a $400 million stake in Endeavor, one of Hollywood's biggest talent and event managers, as part of Crown Prince Mohamed bin Salman's grand plan to diversify the kingdom's oil-based economy, according to people with knowledge of the deal.
The purchase is the latest in a series of deals by the Public Investment Fund and is scheduled to close as soon as March 19[.] ...
[I]n early April, the crown prince – known by his initials MBS – will be the guest of honor at a Los Angeles dinner hosted by Endeavor Chief Executive Officer Ari Emanuel, the people said.
Ari Emanuel is the brother of Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel and Obamacare architect Dr. Zeke Emanuel, both of them powerhouse Democrats. Ari is widely believed to be the model for the crazed, hyper Hollywood talent agent also named "Ari" in the long running HBO series Entourage.
So, what on Earth could be the motive for such an investment? MbS most likely is not looking for introductions to willing starlets, nor, I guess, is he interested in movie production. This is much more likely:
Endeavor, which stages events worldwide from New York Fashion Week to Ultimate Fighting Championship fights, could play a key role as Saudi Arabia rebuilds industries that have withered since movie theaters and other forms of cultural expression were banned more than 35 years ago. One proposal under discussion would have the company work with Saudi Arabia's General Sports Authority and General Entertainment Authority on projects that range from staging events to training athletes, the people said.
Entertainment is one of the sectors MBS has made a priority as part of Vision 2030, his plan to wean the kingdom off its dependency on oil while, at the same time, relaxing some of the social restrictions that made it one of the world's most conservative countries. In January, for the first time in decades, movies were screened in public theaters, with The Emoji Movie and Captain Underpants: The First Epic Movie playing in Jeddah.
MbS needs to impose a top-down cultural revolution on Saudi Arabia if it is ever going to be able to earn its way in the world economy. His challenge is similar to that of Japan's modernizing elites in the 19th-century Meiji Restoration. It is a gigantic challenge, but with this purchase, he may hope to structure a multi-faceted program to change the media diet of Saudis along with experiential events, to work on the consciousness of his subjects and persuade them that openness to the outside world can be pleasurable and intellectually rewarding.
Mass events can be powerful motivators of change. Adolf Hitler's mass rallies are an example of this tool being used for evil. Many historians believe that attendance at these rallies was a major factor in getting Germans to submit to Hitler as a godlike authority. I am not suggesting that MbS wants to be a Hitler, but he may understand the potential of actual participation in mass events as a mobilizer of intellectual, moral, and spiritual change.
According to Bloomberg, the Saudi Public Investment Fund is buying a 7-percent stake in Endeavor for its $400 million. That works out to a $5.417-billion valuation for a company that lacks technology patents, factories, or other hard assets, or a strong brand franchise in mass markets. MbS and his advisers obviously think they are getting something of genuine value for their money, and I suppose that is principally expertise in shaping media and conducting mass events. As insider shareholders, they are in a position to get customization at a profound level.