Dalian Wanda Group Chairman Wang Jianlin has set the speculation wheel spinning with comments he made Tuesday at Oxford University. The billionaire mogul said the Chinese conglomerate is poised to announce a “major deal” on Friday, Bloomberg reports. The Chinese group’s Wanda Cinema Line Co. unit was halted from trading in Shenzhen today pending announcement of an acquisition.
Given the company’s mega-acquisitions of the past few years, when Wang speaks, it’s cause to pay serious attention. There are a number of possible targets for Wanda, which earlier this month gained U.S. regulatory approval for its $3.5B purchase of Legendary Entertainment and in 2012 spent $2.6B to buy AMC Entertainment. Much of the focus right now is on Paramount, especially because of the timing. On Tuesday, Viacom CEO Philippe Dauman announced that he has been “approached by several potential strategic investors in Paramount” and is “pursuing a transaction with a strategic minority investor.”
Wang has previously shown interest in Hollywood studios, saying in December 2014 that he wanted to buy Lionsgate or MGM — and was engaged in talks for a minority stake in Lionsgate. Neither deal advanced, but Wang also said at the time, “Many people come knock at my door, but Wanda is only interested in the big players and we want control.” Wang has also previously noted that buying “a well-known U.S. company” would help its overseas distribution. Another potential Paramount suitor, however, would appear to be Jack Ma’s Alibaba. The two partnered on Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation last year with Alibaba making its first investment in a non-Chinese movie. Middle Kingdom box office was a healthy $136M.
Wanda, which also owns Australia’s Hoyts Cinema chain, is also known to have been shopping for a European exhibitor. Although Wang was speaking in the UK yesterday, he indicated the deal unveiled Friday would not be set there. That would seem to rule out Odeon Cinemas which had been rumored as a potential target. Vue Cinemas, however, is owned by a pair of Canadian funds and operates in and outside Britain. One senior UK executive suggested it could be a possibility, but didn’t rule out Paramount. “They certainly have the money,” this person said. Wang also noted that Wanda is in talks on a “comprehensive” project involving entertainment in the UK that would result in 10,000 jobs. The company is already deep into a major real estate development on the banks of the Thames.
Wanda and Paramount have some backstory. AMC last year partnered with the studio on its accelerated VOD plan which saw Par make Paranormal Activity: The Ghost Dimension and Scouts Guide To The Zombie Apocalypse available to digital home video outlets 17 days after each film dipped below 300 domestic theaters, with a cut of the pie going to exhibitors that showed the films theatrically. Also, Paramount’s China General Manager, Tara Yin, was formerly Marketing and Advertising Director for Wanda Cinema Line in Beijing.
China, incidentally, has done well by Paramount in the past two years, although the studio has worked with other groups on recent films. Transformers: Age Of Extinction went through a cooperation agreement in 2014 with state-backed China Movie Channel and U.S./Chinese streaming company Jiaflix. After releasing in July that year, it held the title of highest-grossing movie ever in the Middle Kingdom for about nine months. In 2015, Par released Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, with investment from Alibaba and prior to that, Terminator: Genisys was the first movie let back into the PROC after the extended summer blackout. It made $113M, far outpacing its domestic haul.
Earlier this year, Wanda said it is eyeing five major acquisitions in 2016 with three of them outside China. Wang has previously said that Wanda can spend as much as $5B a year on foreign acquisitions and would be prepared to pay more than $5B for a single acquisition, if the right opportunity availed itself.