China film conglom heads for IPO

Poly Bona unveils corporate restructuring

Chinese film mini-conglom Poly Bona has unveiled a corporate restructuring that puts it on course for a stock market flotation in late 2009, the only Chinese media firm so far that has the authority to list abroad.

China Film Group — the big daddy of the film sector that unveiled a U.S.-Chinese co-production alliance with Xinhua Finance Media on Monday — and Shanghai Media Group are both eyeing IPOs within China if market conditions permit.

Poly Bona is mainland China’s most active distributor of imported independent, foreign and Hong Kong movies and was Chinese distrib on four of the five films nominated as best film for Sunday’s Hong Kong Film Awards.

Poly Bona is being folded into the new Bona Intl. Film Group holding company.

In addition to Poly Bona topper Yu Dong, BIFG board members include SIG Asia Investment managing director Tim Gong and Hong Kong-based “Infernal Affairs” producer Nansun Shi. Also joining BIFG is former Media Asia head of sales Jeffrey Chan, as group chief operating officer.

“Over time, we want to be seen as an international film company that is based in China, not just a Chinese film company,” Yu told Daily Variety.

U.S.-backed venture capital groups Sequoia Capital and SIG Asia (affiliate of Susquehanna Intl. Group) made preliminary investments in Poly Bona totaling some $10 million last year. The two funds are expected to participate in a further funding round that will take BIFG up to a listing that is likely to be on a bourse outside China.

BIFG will have four subsidiaries.

Poly Bona will focus on Chinese distribution and, to a lesser extent, production finance, while BIFG builds new activities in artist management, cinema exhibition and international distribution.

Talent division Bona Yinglong bowed this year as a joint venture with Hong Kong’s Emperor Entertainment Group and Jackie Chan. It reps six artists, the best known of which is Fan Bingbing. Separately from its affiliation with another exhibitor, Eastern Dragon, BIFG is building its own nationwide circuit. Its Bona Cineplex Investment and Management Co. has two theaters in Xi’an and one in Shanghai and expects to end 2008 with five multiplexes. Corporate ambition is to have 30 plexes within five years.

International sales division is being formed around Chan and Shi’s Distribution Workshop, which is now controlled by BIFG. Unit will handle overseas rights to Mainland Chinese movies that Poly Bona backs, and it may pick up rights to co-productions or third-party pics.

Chan and Shi will attend the Cannes Film Festival next month, but the sales unit will not take a Cannes market booth this year. The pair both have one year remaining to serve on advisory contracts to smaller Chinese outfit J.A. Media.

Poly Bona distribution, which was involved with 20 movies and had revenues of RMB400 million ($57 million) last year, will remain central to BIFG operations.

Forecasting continuing expansion of the Chinese movie industry at over 25% per year, Gong says BIFG and other firms will soon take a place on the global film industry stage.

“The world cannot ignore a population of this size and its entertainment needs. It is only logical that Chinese companies will be involved in shaping that,” he said.

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