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Partnership Between K-pop Agency SM Entertainment & Saudi Arabian Government
By Antonina Veljanovska
EU Correspondent
Princess Haifa Al-Saud
A partnership between K-pop agency SM Entertainment and the Saudi Arabian government is reportedly in the works. South Korea’s entertainment behemoth SM Entertainment will develop Saudi idols with Princess Haifa bint Mohammed Al-Saud as the kingdom aims to grow the industry as its future growth engine with the strategy of the success of K-pop.

SM is set to export its system to produce K-pop artists to Saudi Arabia, becoming South Korea’s first entertainment company that sells the training platform to a country in the Middle East and joins hands with a foreign government as an official partner to develop the entertainment business in the nation.

Princess Haifa Al-Saud described the entertainment industry as an important part of Saudi Arabia’s future growth. Princess Haifa Al-Saud has been the vice president of strategy at the Saudi Commission for Tourism and National Heritage (SCTH) since March 2019, and the secretary-general of Formula E Holdings since July 2018. She is also vice chairperson of the Saudi Fencing Federation and chairperson of the women’s committee at the Arab Fencing Federation.

Princess Haifa Al-Saud is currently Assistant Minister for Tourism at the Saudi Ministry of Tourism where she is responsible for implementing the National Tourism Strategy, from establishing effective regulations, policies and processes that will support the local industry, through to facilitating ease of doing business for investors and ensuring quality standards are met across the sector.

Princess Haifa Al-Saud attained her bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of New Haven in 2008, and her master’s in business administration from the London Business School in 2017. She started her career at HSBC Holdings as an analyst, progressing to senior associate of equity sales before leaving in 2012 to join the Ministry of Higher Education as a senior consultant. She was also managing director of the General Sports Authority between 2017 and 2019. She also sits on the board of directors at the General Authority of Civil Aviation (GACA), Qiddiya, the Tourism Development Fund (TDF), and the Tourism Development Council (TDC).

Previously, she occupied the role of Secretary-General of Formula E Holdings, where she was in charge of organizing the largest global Formula E event in Diriyah, outside Riyadh, and the first ever in the MENA region, attracting over 60,000 attendees and generating more than 113 million media impressions. She also occupied the role of Managing Director of Sports Economy at the Saudi General Sports Authority (GSA), where she led on projects that supported the development of SMEs within the sports ecosystem.

Her passion for fencing led her to take on the role of Chairman of Saudi Arabic Fencing Women’s Federation and Vice Chairman of the Saudi Fencing Federation, where she is credited for increasing the number of women on the official Saudi team from zero to over 200 today. As an outspoken advocate on a variety of causes, she is one of the founding members of The Empowerment Hub, a nonprofit organization launched in 2014 which seeks to raise awareness on issues relating to women’s health. The organization mobilizes over 3,000 women and generates more that 1 million SAR in donations to local charities.

Her professional career began in equity sales at HSBC, in the UK then Saudi. She holds a Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA) from the University of New Haven, US, and a Master of Business Administration (MBA) from London Business School, UK. Saudi Arabia is considered the best place for the South Korean music industry to use as a base for expanding their business in the Middle East as the government is actively fostering the entertainment sector in order to shed its image of Islamic fundamentalism.

South Korean music label SM Entertainment will expand into the Middle East, as part of a new partnership with Saudi Arabia. SM Entertainment, home to top K-pop groups such as Girls’ Generation, Red Velvet, NCT, Aespa and more, plans to export its idol production system to Saudi Arabia. He is set to export its system to produce K-pop artists to Saudi Arabia, becoming South Korea’s first entertainment company that sells the training platform to a country in the Middle East and joins hands with a foreign government as an official partner to develop the entertainment business in the nation.

SM aims to develop pop artists in the Middle East through sales of the K-pop platform in order to expand its influence in the local markets and seeks profits from them. It also plans to export K-pop stars to the region. “The music market in the Middle East grew to 750 billion won last year with an average growth of 30% a year in the recent few years,” said an SM source. “The Middle East that producer Lee penetrated is expected to be SM’s new source of earnings.”

A partnership between K-pop agency SM Entertainment and the Saudi Arabian government is reportedly in the works. This meeting was arranged by the requests of officials of Saudi Abrabia who wanted to meet producer Lee, also known as the man who started the K-pop craze. According to SM Entertainment on April 7, 2022, the producer visited Riyadh, capital city of Saudi Arabia at the invitation of the Saudi government, according to South Korean entertainment industry sources on March 23-24, 2022 they met with important officials of the Saudi Arabia including Haifa bint Mohammed Al-Saud, princess of Saudi Arabia and vice minister of Tourism, Faisal F. AIibrahim, the secretary of the council of Economic and Development affair, and Hamed bin Mohammed Fayez, the minister of culture.

Producer Lee proposed to create the “Giga Project” which contains three technologies including AI (Artificial Intelligence), metaverse (virtual world) and drones in a new city that is under development. The Saudi officials responded that they would discuss the necessary policies in the coming future. “70% of Saudi Arabia’s population is under the age of 30. I want producer Lee to create a music ecosystem (life) that young people can share and enjoy. I really look forward to the collaboration” Haifa Bint Mohammed Al Saud, Princess of Saudi Arabia, said. Producer Lee said, “Through producing, I hope to establish a direction for the entertainment business and the metaverse city construction while also building a music ecosystem that young people of the Saudi Arabia can enjoy.”

The kingdom’s Princess Haifa bint Mohammed Al-Saud reportedly spoke to Lee about her desire to learn more about SM Entertainment’s systems and procedures for nurturing artists. This would be part of the Middle Eastern nation’s plans to develop the country’s entertainment industry. She reportedly told Lee that she wanted to learn SM’s systems for nurturing K-pop artists, adding the entertainment industry is one of the most important sectors that the kingdom is developing as a future growth engine.

Lee pledged to teach the system as soon as possible as that was an opportunity to dominate the Middle East where the oil-producing rich countries gather. “We will hold a SM Town concert by all of SM artists, as well as an EDM show in Saudi Arabia within this year,” Lee also vowed, referring to electronic dance music.

He has been an advisor for the project since 2019, prompting expectations that the K-pop powerhouse will secure a large number of entertainment orders from Saudi Arabia, industry sources said.

Vice Minister for Culture Hamed bin Mohammed Fayez said the kingdom will spare no support for SM. Saudi Arabia, the world’s top crude exporter, is investing a huge amount of money in the development of the culture and tourism industries to reduce its reliance on oil. The kingdom is building Qiddiya, a vast entertainment resort, with an investment of more than 100 trillion won ($82.1 billion) by 2035.

The kingdom is rich enough to boost consumption thanks to its oil exports. In addition, about two-thirds of the population is 34 years old or younger while almost all of the people use the internet there, providing good conditions to form K-pop fandoms. K-pop is already popular in the country with tickets for a concert of SM’s boy band Super Junior in 2019 sold out in three hours.

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Antonina Veljanovska, based in North Macedonia, serves as EU correspondent for The Seoul Times. The Macedonian journalist has written for the local new media. She is interested in the Korean culture including K-Pop and fashion. Her hobbies include reading.






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