Showbiz leaders from around the globe were out in force in the western Chinese city of Chengdu this week for the Fortune Global Forum, underlining the fact that pretty much everyone sees the rapidly expanding Chinese market as a major opportunity.
Wang Jianlin talked about building a chain of entertainment centers, while Time Warner chairman-CEO Jeff Bewkes, DreamWorks Animation CEO Jeffrey Katzenberg and Disney’s Bob Iger also touted big plans.
The forum gathers business leaders, government officials, CEOs from the top 500 firms and media from around the world. It’s the 12th Fortune Global Forum and the first hosted by a western Chinese city, following Shanghai, Hong Kong and Beijing.
Organizers pulled out all the stops: They even lifted internet restrictions on Facebook and Twitter at the Shangri-La Hotel here.
During the June 6-8 event, Time Warner announced a strategic partnership with investment fund China Media Capital. The partnership will “capitalize on China’s rapidly expanding media sector,” according to the announcement, Bewkes stated, “Increasing our global presence is one of Time Warner’s strategic priorities and China is one of the most attractive territories in which we operate, but it is complex. This alliance will give all our businesses a savvy and accomplished partner as we strive to bring our leading brands and storytelling to people everywhere, across a wide range of devices.”
Li Ruigang founded CMC in 2010 with a focus on entertainment investments, which now include Oriental DreamWorks and the purchase of Star China from News Corp. in 2010.
Other Hollywood firms active in China include Relativity Media and Legendary Entertainment. Legendary’s China shingle, Legendary East, last week inked a cooperation deal with the state film colossus, China Film Group.
Many overseas film makers complain that China’s regulatory environment makes it a difficult market to work in. Katzenberg said, however, that they released more than a dozen movies in China and have never been asked to change a single frame.
“Oriental DreamWorks is a full partnership in every sense of the word. It is a Chinese company,” said Katzenberg. The shingle is working on “Tibet Code,” a swashbuckling live-action project aimed firmly at the China market.
The “Kung Fu Panda” franchise has been a huge hit in China, causing a bout of soul-searching among studio execs here about how Hollywood managed to get such an authentically Chinese feel to the movie.
Katzenberg spoke of how DreamWorks did its research in Chengdu, which as well as hosting the forum is also the panda capital of China.
He said the forthcoming “Kung Fu Panda 3” would explore more elements of China and its culture.
During a panel, Wang Jianlin, topper of the real estate company Wanda which recently bought the AMC theater chain. He said he was pushing ahead with a project called Wanda Tourism City, urban entertainment centers with catering, restaurants, indoor entertainment, high tech movie theaters, karaoke, and bars and hotels.
“We will unveil at least 10 of them, but none of them is going to be as big as Disneyland,” he said, as a reference to fellow panelist Iger.
Disneyland Shanghai is due to open in 2015, and Iger spoke of the 11 years in getting the project off the ground, and how important it was to adapt the brand to local needs while retaining the core value.
“We could have brought it (Disneyland) here and just put a Mandarin language-track on it and put it on and I’m sure it would have gotten some consumption. Instead we decided ‘let’s take it to China and let the Chinese make it for themselves, not just with their own language track, but their own characters and then adapting it,’ ” he said.