Chinese Mogul Urges Trump Against Scrutinizing Media Investments
(Bloomberg) -- China’s biggest media mogul said he’d be a "happy buyer" of a top Hollywood studio if one were for sale and urged president-elect Donald Trump to resist calls for the government to scrutinize Chinese investments in the U.S. entertainment industry, warning such a move could hurt both sides.
"If the U.S. blocks Chinese capital, China can retaliate with protectionist measures. This won’t be good for anyone," Dalian Wanda Group Co.’s billionaire Chairman Wang Jianlin told Bloomberg News Editor-in-Chief John Micklethwait during a panel at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. "Let’s not fight over entertainment."
Though Wang has voiced his interest in buying a top Hollywood studio before, his comments come days before the U.S. swears in as president a man who’s repeatedly attacked China by deriding its trading and currency policies as being unfair. Wang’s purchases in the U.S. have already prompted 18 members of Congress to urge the government to begin reviewing Chinese investments that may involve control of media and other soft-power institutions.
Wanda was the first Chinese firm to own a major Hollywood film production company with the $3.5 billion purchase of "Godzilla"-maker Legendary Entertainment last year. In November, Wanda agreed to buy Golden Globe Awards producer Dick Clark Productions for $1 billion. Wanda is the biggest operator of movie theaters in America after his AMC Entertainment Holdings Inc. purchased Carmike Cinemas Inc.
Despite the backlash, China’s second-richest man brushed off the criticism he’s faced in the U.S., saying he doesn’t interfere with content and that as a businessman, he’s primarily interested in making money.
"They produce their films and I only demand profits from them. A few years ago, there were concerns that AMC would only screen Chinese films after I bought it. That never happened," he said. "The U.S. companies I’ve bought are still run by Americans."
He’s losing one big American chief. Thomas Tull, who founded Legendary Entertainment and sold it to Wanda, stepped down as chief executive officer on Tuesday, though he’ll remain founding chairman and retain a stake in Legendary. Jack Gao, a senior Wanda executive, will be acting CEO while Legendary seeks a full-time replacement.
Still, what’s eluded Wang over the years has been the purchase of one of Hollywood’s "big six" studios.
“Of course, if we are able to buy one of the top six, that would be a great thing to do," Wang said. "However, these six companies aren’t in a selling mood, so that’s an issue we can’t crack.”
Hollywood’s six major studios are Viacom Inc.’s Paramount Pictures, 21st Century Fox Inc.’s 20th Century Fox, Time Warner Inc.’s Warner Bros., Walt Disney Studios, Comcast Corp.’s Universal Pictures and Sony Pictures.
Wang, 62, joined the army as a teenager and then left to go into government before branching off into real estate, where he built a fortune that now ranks second only to that of Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. Chairman Jack Ma in China. The Bloomberg Billionaires Index estimates his net worth at about $31 billion.
Having developed Wanda into the one of the world’s largest owner of shopping malls and luxury hotels, Wang in recent years has shifted the group’s focus toward entertainment and sports via a string of acquisitions.
In addition to the U.S., Wanda is also the top owner of cinemas in China and Europe. The tycoon controls 12 percent of the world’s movie theaters, giving him an edge over other foreign businessmen who have failed to make it in Hollywood, he said.
Asked whether Chinese movies will succeed overseas, Wang said "The Great Wall," his $150 million fantasy epic starring Matt Damon and the biggest ever China-U.S. co-production, will be a test case. Produced by Legendary, the movie has been screening in China and over a dozen other markets, bringing in nearly $200 million so far, according to Box Office Mojo.
"Great Wall is the first test in making a Chinese film for the world," he said. "It would be a huge success if it sells $400 million to $500 million worldwide. Still, compared to Hollywood, we are lagging far behind and have just begun experimenting."
Wang also urged Hollywood studios to adapt more to the changing taste of Chinese audiences, the source of Hollywood’s biggest revenue growth.
"Chinese films have more emotional attachment, while Hollywood films are focused on big scenes and how Americans save the world," Wang said. "Hollywood needs to adapt to Chinese audiences’ taste more, instead of keeping spawning superheroes."
At home, Wanda is preparing to formally open its Qingdao Movie Metropolis, which it calls the world’s largest film studio complex, next year. It’s already shot the first major China-Hollywood co-production there: “The Great Wall,” due for a February debut in the U.S. after an earlier introduction in China. Wang visited the U.S. in October, speaking at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and offering subsidies for U.S. filmmakers to make movies at Qingdao.
With assistance from Prudence Ho, Jeanne Yang