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China Media Capital Chief on Hollywood Investment: ‘We Should Be Smart Money, Not Dumb Money’

JERUSALEM — Reports of the Chinese-led invasion of Hollywood have been greatly exaggerated, China Media Capital chairman Li Ruigang told a Jerusalem audience on Monday at the INTV conference, a media confab devoted to innovation in the small-screen world.

In fact, he said, the so-called flood of wealthy financiers coming from the world’s most populous nation to buy up Hollywood are not a flood at all, but rather a trickle that treads with caution and is working to cultivate local partnerships on the ground in tandem with its injections of cash.

“I’ve read some articles about China’s invasion into Hollywood, and I actually don’t think they’re true,” said Li, one of China’s most influential businessman that has held stakes in DreamWorks Animation, the Manchester City Football Club and many more major companies. “China is not ready to take a big stake in Hollywood. Money is important but money is not everything. If you want to have a successful investment or a successful acquisition, it requires a deep understanding of local culture and it requires more sophisticated execution,” he said.

Li’s panel was the first of two devoted to China and its growing influence on the international media landscape — marking the first time INTV has explicitly acknowledged the nation’s role as a power player in global entertainment.

In both events, the underlying theme was of cautious, partnership-driven financing, as well as a desire among wealthy Chinese backers to carefully cherry-pick their investments based on global trends and local intelligence.

“We should be smart money, not dumb money,” Li said. “And if you look at the history, in the past there were so many rich guys trying to buy assets, trying to buy Hollywood. But… Hollywood is still Hollywood and the people just offer capital. So from China, I think we should be more reasonable, more cautious and smart.”

His fellow investors echoed this strategy.

“It’s a little bit of hubris to think you can just enter a market without knowing it,” said Erik Hodge, managing director of the Raine Group, during a panel immediately following Ruigang’s talk. He was joined on stage by WME’s Chris Rice; Maggie Zhou, co-president of Ruigang’s CMC Holdings; and moderator Jonathan Benartzi, managing partner of the Israeli new media venture firm Firstime VC. “I think the trend in digital media companies will be in looking for strong partnerships,” Hodge said.

Israel, the upstart nation whose television industry has produced global hits including “Homeland,” “In Treatment” and “The A Word,” is also ripe for more Chinese partnerships, said Rice, who leads WME’s Global TV team.

“Israel has been a fantastic provider of formats for quite some years now,” Rice said.  “There’s huge opportunity in China.”

In addition to good screenwriting, Israel has an asset the Chinese are eager to take advantage — technological brainpower. Li, for his part, is making good use of his trip to INTV to scout out potential investments among Tel Aviv’s exploding start-up scene.

“Israel is a very interesting place for us to look into in the near future,” Li said. “I just arrived here yesterday and this is my first time here, but upon my arrival I already visited two startup companies, one doing technology and the other doing content format. And this afternoon and tomorrow my schedule is also full of appointments with startup companies and the incubators behind these companies. I would like to learn more.”

(Pictured: China Media Capital’s Li Ruigang and ContentAsia’s Janine Stein)

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