‘Transformers’ to Smash Box Office Record in China, Viacom Chief Predicts

“Transformers: Age of Extinction” will take China by storm, Viacom president and CEO Philippe Dauman predicted Thursday at the MoffettNathanson Media & Communications Summit.

“It’s going to be huge and will probably set a box office record in China,” the Viacom chief boasted.

If that lofty projection comes to pass, credit will go to Paramount Pictures’ work forging partnerships with Chinese companies as well as its decision to feature Chinese actors and settings in the hotly anticipated film sequel.

Michael Bay directed the film, which swaps original star Shia LaBeouf for Mark Wahlberg. As a sign of how important the Asian market is to Paramount’s ambitions, “Transformers: Age of Extinction” will have its world premiere in Hong Kong on June 19.

To improve its chances in China, the filmmakers unveiled a reality show on state broadcaster CCTV’s Movie Channel that found contestants competing for the right to play supporting roles in the movie. In addition, parts of the film were shot in Hong Kong and multiple locations in mainland China.

The previous installment in the “Transformers” franchise, “Dark of the Moon,” grossed a massive $165.1 million in the people’s republic.

The global appeal of “Transformers” isn’t the only element of Paramount’s business that Dauman seemed eager to talk up. The studio has been a less gaudy part of Viacom’s balance sheet than the media conglomerate’s cable assets, a collection of steady moneymakers that includes MTV and Comedy Central, but Dauman said he is pleased by Paramount’s efforts to break into animation and television production.

The animation division will unveil “SpongeBob SquarePants 2” on February 13, followed by “Monster Trucks” on May 29, 2015.  Paramount plans to release one or two animated films annually and hope to keep budgets lower than those of rivals such as Pixar or DreamWorks Animation, whose films can carry budgets north of $150 million.

“It’s very dear to my heart,” Dauman said of Paramount’s animation ambitions, noting that when a studio has “a breakout animated title, it’s extremely profitable.”

There are also opportunities to partner with Nickelodeon, Viacom’s venerable kids network. In the case of “SpongeBob,” the film will include live action and CGI elements that Dauman predicted will “refresh and give another boost” to the character.

Paramount’s entry into television production comes at a fortuitous time, Dauman argued. The panoply of cable channels and digital platforms are driving a greater demand for content.

One of the studio’s projects, “Grease Live,” a live-action version of the hit Paramount film, has been picked up by Fox and will be profitable “out of the box,” Dauman predicted. The television content will be a mixture of smallscreen adaptations of existing Paramount films and original content.

“It’s a big growth initiative for Paramount,” Dauman said.



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