Studio PolyBona eyes expansion

Company hopes for U.S. stock listing by 2010

Beijing-based studio PolyBona has outlined a bold expansion project for its exhib and production sectors, and hopes a recent injection of foreign venture capital will help it become China’s first private film company to list Stateside by 2010.

Venture capital firms Sequoia and SIG have invested in PolyBona, and company’s founding prexy Yu Dong said in an interview with Variety on the sidelines of the Pusan Intl. Film Festival that expansion would be built on bigger, better investment in exhibition and production.

“We’re very keen to expand the production side and focus on the whole film chain from beginning to end — development, production, distribution and exhibition,” said Yu.

PolyBona is working on building 500 screens in the next three years across China, and plans to invest in 20 movies a year, and to keep B.O. share at a constant 20%-25%.

“With the investment from the overseas venture capital firms we will develop into a conglomerate and our goal is to go public overseas,” Yu said, adding that he was looking for an overseas listing because there are fewer restrictions.

China’s theatrical exhib market is chronically underdeveloped. The market was worth an estimated $250 million in 2005, way short of its potential, and annual growth is put at up to 30% a year, on a combination of multiplex building and rising ticket prices.

Last year saw the construction of 82 new hardtops but there are still only 1,325 theaters with just over 3,000 screens in China, which works out at an astonishingly low ratio of one screen per 428,477 people, compared to one screen to 8,000 people in the U.S.

“The business has been booming for the past few years, notably since 2005. We saw room for investment and development,” he said.

This year, the cities invested in would include, among others, Shenzhen, Xi’an and Chongqing, with Shanghai and Beijing coming next year.

PolyBona is currently working on five major projects, including “Three Kingdoms” with Andy Lau, and Tsui Hark’s “Missing,” and it also has coin in Asia’s biggest movie, “Red Cliff,” helmed by John Woo, but he plans to ratchet up production investment across a broad range of sectors.

“We will increase our focus on co-productions with independents in the U.S., Taiwan, Hong Kong, Japan and Korea,” said Yu.

A graduate of the Beijing Film Academy, Yu went on to work at China’s largest film complex, Beijing Film Studio. He was then in charge of domestic distribution at China Film Group for several years before he set up the Beijing Bona Culture Communication Co. in 1999. PolyBona was one of the first private firms to be granted a distribution license by the China Film Bureau.

PolyBona merged in November 2003 with China Poly Group, which is the wealthy business conglomerate wing of the Chinese military, the People’s Liberation Army, to form PolyBona Film Distribution.