WB inks China VOD pact

Studio to release films through You On Demand

Warner Bros. is getting ready to chase a new VOD audience — in China.

The studio, which was one of the first of the majors to back premium VOD, is now an early Hollywood player to offer its films through You On Demand, China’s first national pay-per-view and VOD platform.

You On Demand anticipates the service will be available in three million cable TV homes in China by the end of the summer.

The Internet and cable-based operation hopes to eventually be available in 200 million households, and could potentially provide any participating studio a lucrative new audience to reach with their pics.

Warner Bros. will make the first of its films — a collection of new releases and catalog titles — available this summer, with the “Harry Potter” franchise expected to be among them. Other studios are likely to follow with similar distribution deals.

China is still a largely untested market for VOD, but auds there have proved hungry for movies at megaplexes being built at a rapid rate and it’s only a matter of time before those Hollywood pics are demanded at home, as well.

The WB deal was brokered with CAV Warner Home Entertainment Co., Warner Bros. Home Entertainment Group’s joint venture in China, and You On Demand Holdings.

Deal isn’t surprising, considering WB has been quick to broker deals that put the studio’s films on a variety of new distribution platforms, from premium VOD services like Home Premiere to Facebook.

Announcement also follows last week’s move by Warner Bros.-based Legendary Entertainment to launch Legendary East as a new film production shingle in China. WB will release films made there throughout the rest of the world.

You On Demand was designed as a new consumer brand through China Broadband, a provider of cable broadband services and publisher of digital and analog program guides in the Shandong Province of China.

Last summer, company tapped former WWE executive Shane McMahon as its CEO and chairman, based in part in Gotham and Beijing. Since his hire, the company has been ramping up fundraising to speed up the rollout of the service, lock down content and market the venture.

As executive VP of global media at WWE, McMahon, the son of Vince McMahon, was instrumental in expanding WWE’s reach overseas, brokering lucrative deals for the company’s TV shows and PPVs in 145 countries in Europe, Asia and Latin America to broaden its audience.

On the China deal, McMahon on Wednesday described it as “groundbreaking because we are going to be able to monetize content in the largest market in the world.” He said it was difficult to leave the family business but the opportunity to be a licensed distributor of entertainment in China was too irresistible. “I didn’t want to look back and regret not having done this.” The deal took more than a year to come to fruition, said McMahon, and all the studios expressed interest with Warner being the most aggressive. McMahon said he expects other studios sign on as well.

You On Demand, which recently signed on Fidelity’s Hong Kong operations as an investor, is expected to begin trading on the Nasdaq exchange no later than October, said McMahon. “With the China deal, and with Fidelity, all the checks for now are marked off in the checkbox,” he added.

You On Demand’s exec team also includes WWE’s former VP of affiliate marketing of global media, Lisa Richards, who now serves as senior VP of distribution and marketing.