Dalian Wanda Group chairman Wang Jianlin has not been one to shy away from a splashy deal and some candid talk since he began doing serious business in Hollywood a few years ago. Today is no different. China’s wealthiest man has told Reuters that he expects his real estate and entertainment conglomerate to close two film-related deals valued at $1B+ each in the U.S. this year. After that, he says, it’s on to owning a studio — and he’s not just interested in Paramount.
According to Reuters, the mogul is eyeing the acquisition of two film, though not production, companies for more than $1B each, which would bolster his movie businesses. “My goal is to buy Hollywood companies and bring their technology and capability to China,” Wang said.
Wanda has had an eye on a 49% stake in Paramount Pictures with talks between it and Viacom taking place last month. But Wang is not playing favorites among the studios. “We are interested not only in Paramount, but all of them. If one of the Big Six would be willing to be sold to us, we would be interested,” the executive told the news agency.
“Only the six are real global film companies, while the rest are not. If we are to build a real movie empire, this is a necessary step,” he added. Wall Street has previously been skeptical about a Viacom and Wanda tie-up. Given the recent management shake-up at the U.S. company, whose largest shareholder previously vowed to oppose a Paramount sale to the Chinese outfit, that would seem to set up a further roadblock. However, in a regulatory filing today, Viacom authorized outgoing CEO Philippe Dauman to continue exploring a possible minority stake sale. The filing said he must notify any potential investor that a proposed Paramount investment is subject to the Viacom board’s approval and that he shall provide a status update no later than September 7.
Wanda made an investment in Paramount’s summer sequel Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out Of The Shadows through its subsidiary Movie Media Group and has said it is looking to continue to back other films as part of a strategic step in its global plans. This is a tack also being taken by Wang’s rival Jack Ma and his Alibaba which has made a series of tentpole investments in the past year.
Wanda is eager to become a global entertainment power and said early this year that it was looking at five major acquisitions with three of them outside of the Middle Kingdom.
In January, Wanda acquired Legendary Entertainment for $3.5B and then bought 51% of Omnigon, a consulting firm that helps sports, media and entertainment providers to develop mobile apps and websites. The next month, Wanda said it would invest $3.3B by 2024 in EuropaCity, a mega-theme park/resort/retail/sports project outside Paris. In July, it acquired China’s leading movie portal, Mtime, for $350M.
Wanda is the largest exhibitor in China with 18% of PROC screens and recently pacted with IMAX in a landmark deal for additional hubs. It holds 75% of AMC Theaters in the U.S. and also owns Australia’s Hoyt’s.
When the company completes the purchase of Odeon & UCI Cinemas Group and Carmike Cinemas, Wanda will control 15% of global box office revenues, Wang told Reuters, and could reach its goal of controlling 20% ahead of the 2020 target.
With regard to overall acquisitions in the entertainment and sports arenas, Wang contends, “If the target company fits our appetite, there is no upper limit for budgeting.”
But Wang cautioned the news agency about “silly money.” Most of what gets invested in China “and even the global film industry, is silly money. Only a little is smart money,” he said.
China box office is still expected to surpass the U.S. in 2017 despite a slowdown at turnstiles this summer, but Wang suggested that as growth dips, possibly to 8% this year, “some will be washed out. It’s like Warren Buffett said, ‘you only find out who is swimming naked when the tide goes out’.”