Dalian Wanda Group Co., which controls the second-biggest U.S. cinema chain, is in talks to acquire a stake in film studio Lions Gate (LGF) Entertainment Corp., billionaire chairman Wang Jianlin said.
[by Bloomberg News | December 1, 2014]
The Beijing-based company is interested in buying control of Lions Gate, the $4.7 billion studio behind “The Hunger Games” films, although its owners have only been willing to sell a minority stake, Wang said in an interview. Talks are at an early stage and may not lead to a deal, he said. Wanda has also held discussions about investing in Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc., the independent producer of James Bond films, Wang said.
Closely held Wanda joins Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. (BABA), China’s biggest e-commerce company, and billionaire Guo Guangchang’s Fosun International Ltd. (656) in seeking to invest in the Hollywood film industry. Wang also said he wants to acquire large theater networks in Europe as part of his ambition to control 20 percent of the global cinema market by 2020.
“Many people come knock at my door, but Wanda is only interested in the big players and we want control,” Wang said. “China’s movie industry is booming at unprecedented speed. Buying a well-known U.S. company will help our distribution overseas.”
The 60-year-old Wang, who made his fortune developing shopping malls and hotels in China, has a net worth of $15.1 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.
Wanda said in August it plans to invest $1.2 billion to develop a plot of land in Beverly Hills, California, and will set up an office there to do deals in Hollywood. Wang held an Oct. 8 meeting in Beijing with Lions Gate Chairman Mark Rachesky, the movie studio’s largest shareholder, according to a news post on the Chinese company’s website. The release didn’t say what the two men discussed.
A Lions Gate spokesman and a spokeswoman for MGM declined to comment.
MGM, which owns rights to “The Hobbit” film series, filed for bankruptcy in 2010 after spurning a takeover bid from Lions Gate and activist investor Carl Icahn. It emerged less than two months later.
Wanda, which also runs department-stores, tourism businesses and chain of movie theaters in China, acquired AMC Entertainment in 2012 for $2.6 billion including debt to expand into the U.S.
Wang’s quest to build a global movie empire comes as he says China’s housing market has ended its period of rapid growth, after expanding at an “unhealthy, crazy” rate over the past few years. Property prices will remain “stable,” and the housing market will grow at the same pace as the economy over the next 10 to 15 years, he said.
“We are shifting our group’s focus toward culture, entertainment and e-commerce,” Wang said. “China’s movie industry is growing a lot faster than that of the U.S.”
Wanda would consider acquisitions of film studios larger than Lions Gate if any come up for sale, according to Wang. It is also in advanced talks to buy a Chinese Internet finance company, he said without naming the target.
Fosun, the Shanghai-based company that invested $200 million in Jeff Robinov’s Studio 8 in June, also held talks to invest in Lions Gate, people with knowledge of the matter have said. Alibaba has visited Hollywood to learn about movie studios and look for partners that would provide better entertainment products for China’s 200 million people in the middle class, founder Jack Ma said at an Oct. 27 conference.
Wanda said last year it plans to invest 50 billion yuan ($8.1 billion) to build an entertainment park in Qingdao, a coastal city in eastern China, that will include a movie museum and 20 studios scheduled for completion in 2017.