Entertainment Targeted by Sovereign Wealth

Buried in the Money

The Media & Entertainment industry topped the unofficial agenda for an invitation-only gathering of the world’s most powerful money managers hosted within the British House of Commons and organised by the Sovereign Wealth Fund Institute.

The Global Wealth Conference 2023, organised by the Sovereign Wealth Fund Institute from 30 May to 1 June, was billed as a gathering of institutional investment principals controlling over US$5 trillion in investment capital to discuss and align strategy.  Sovereign Wealth Funds, or SWFs, are loosely defined as investment pools comprised of state-owned capital managed for the preservation of national wealth.  Like many institutional investors, SWFs tend to allocate across a diversified portfolio of assets internationally.  But unlike other professional investors, SWFs and related State-owned investment companies are often used as a strategic instrument of political and economic policy for the nations they represent. 

This has been most prominently demonstrated by the primary sovereign wealth fund of Saudi Arabia, the Public Investment Fund, or PIF, and its impressive focus on pumping investment capital into the film, games and sports verticals of the global Media & Entertainment industry.   While SWFs tend to work quietly, and often through third-party fund managers, the very public announcements of PIF investments into the Media & Entertainment industry is a distinct change of tact for a player in an exclusive club sensitive to publicity.

The senior management within Sovereign Wealth Funds are politically sensitive to public perception. 

Many in leadership positions are also senior members of royal families, or answer directly to them.  So it should come as no surprise that the event was hosted within the hallowed halls of the British House of Commons.  Where money talks, politicians can be counted on to fall over themselves to be seen listening.

Those circumstances are fertile ground for sending messages that are never spoken, but clearly understood.

The Media C-Suite spoke with several investment professionals who attended the Global Wealth Conference.  Each spoke on condition of anonymity. 

“It’s all about Saudi.” A senior investment banker from the United States told the Media C-Suite.  “You can feel it.  They should just come right out and say so.” 

“The agenda for Saudi Arabia is very clear and is not hidden at all.”  Advised another attendee, a senior private equity analyst for a State-owned investment company in one of the Gulf States.  “They have published their objectives, and almost all of them hinge on generating a more positive global image that can be leveraged economically as oil becomes less secure as a revenue source for the Kingdom.”

The reference is to Saudi’s ‘Vision 2030’, a strategy to diversify the Kingdom’s economy away from oil by using its considerable sovereign wealth to transform Saudi Arabia into an international trading, social and cultural magnet.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman
Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman. Image: Madar Al-Jaloud/Saudi Royal Palace/AFP/Getty Images

“The only way to do that is by changing global public perception of what Saudi Arabia is and who Saudi’s are.”  He continued.  “That means changing the narrative repeated on the news and in the movies around the world, but particularly in the USA.” 

This gathering was not a politically official meeting.  This was not the G7.  Or even the World Economic Forum in Davos.  This was something else entirely.  Publicised as just another private wealth conference, attendance was by invitation only and the venue could not have been more informational.  The Sovereign Wealth Fund Institute is not a trade organisation, but rather a private analytics and events company.

Those in attendance were promised the typical faire for a private capital wealth conference.  Forums on portfolio diversification, risk mitigation and capital preservation were structured and a specific discussion on Saudi Arabia was on the official agenda.  However, the senior management of most of the world’s SWFs were absent.  Rather, a long list of personal representatives, Chief Investment Officers and analysts provided the background for what could be viewed as a subtle message being delivered on the fringes of the conference, in the coffee breaks and the networking sessions.

“Saudi doesn’t want any interference.”  A senior lawyer in the City of London told the Media C-Suite. “There’s too much riding on opening its economy and that depends directly on changing the world’s mind about Saudi Arabia.” 

Yassir al Rumayyan
H.E. Yasir bin Othman Al-Rumayyan, Governor of the Saudi Public Investment Fund, Chairman of LIV Golf, Saudi Pro League, Saudi Aramco, … Image: Getty Images.

Within a week of the Global Wealth Conference, Saudi Arabia made two very public announcements. 

On Monday, June 5th, Saudi effectively nationalised its domestic football’s Professional League in a move that opens nearly unlimited money for the world’s most cherished footballers to sign deals and play for Saudi football clubs.  The clear objective is to endear Saudi football clubs within the hearts of billions of global fans and elevate the standing of Saudi sport (and reap the benefits of television licensing deals). 

On Tuesday, June 6th, Saudi’s LIV Golf announced that its most bitter and vitriolic rival, the PGA, will now be its most loyal partner in unifying the business of global Golf as one of the only all-season spectator sports (and one of the most lucrative collections of television rights). 

These two announcements were made just as U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken was concluding direct discussions with Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, also known as “MBS”.

MBS is the architect of his government’s Vision 2030.  The man in charge of implementing that vision is the Governor of the PIF, Yasir bin Othman Al-Rumayyan.  Mr. Al-Rumayyan is a hand’s on type of manager and is the Chairman of both LIV Golf and the newly enhanced Saudi Professional League (he is likely to be named Chairman of the new entity to be merged between LIV Golf and the PGA). 

As Governor of the PIF, Mr. Al-Rumayyan has overseen the investment of over US$15.3 billion in publicly disclosed holdings in carefully selected Media & Entertainment assets during 2022 alone, including Disney, Activision-Blizzard, Electronic Arts, Amazon, Live Nation Entertainment and Meta Platforms.  The PIF is rumoured to hold influential equity and debt positions in nearly all of the Media Majors acting as global television, streaming and distribution conglomerates.  In addition, the PIF’s indirect holdings through investment into Private Equity and Venture Capital fund managers with influential equity and debt positions in media production, distribution and streaming companies is thought to be valued at nearly US$100 billion. 


For more background on this story, read:

Saudi’s New Investment Strategy in Media & Entertainment

Saudi Arabia’s investment activities point to a determined strategy to make use of the Media & Entertainment industry’s massive soft power.


While PIF investment activities are global, including highly influential stakes in production, distribution and streaming companies across Europe, the Middle-East and Asia, it is the U.S.A. that seems to receive most of the strategic allocation. 

Saudi Arabia’s MBS is accused of trying to obscure poor global public opinion, but his strategy is much longer-term. 

“The memory of murdered journalist and dissident Jamal Khashoggi is constantly invoked in media reports as though the reason Saudi Arabia is making a foray into sport is to make us forget about that man’s tragic demise in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul and other human rights abuses”, writes journalist Tracey Holmes in a deep report for Australia’s ABC Sport and The Ticket.

“Instead, what the [LIV-PGA] golf deal shows is that as heinous as such crimes are, the stakes involved in strategic global alignments are much higher, and the USA is willing to look beyond human rights abuses when necessary.”

The ability to wield influence over the messages conveyed to global audiences is a powerful national tool that opens the door to achieving economic transformations that require a degree of good will internationally. 

Joseph Stalin, an enthusiastic fan of Hollywood movies, is quoted as saying, “If I could control the medium of the American motion picture, I would need nothing else to convert the whole world to communism.” 

Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman may have come to the same conclusion.

3 Comments

  1. Ok, now I am beginning to see a pattern. A number of articles on here talk about Saudi this and that. I am sceptical that there is a concerted strategy to take over Media & Entertainment like some kind of Bond villain. But, the pieces are beginning to fit together. Its a stretch, but what if its true?

  2. With the media world still mostly reliant on existing investors in the US and Europe, the rise of new investment markets should be music to the ears of the independent film makers.

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