The move may presage Li putting more focus on China Media Capital, a state-backed investment fund that he created in 2009.
SMG is a state-owned group that controls over a dozen radio stations, TV channels, paid for TV networks and publications. It has business dealings with at least three Hollywood studio conglomerates including DreamWorks Animation and Disney. Li, who is only 46, has been SMG chairman since October 2002.
In an ominous-sounding report, state mouthpiece China Daily said Monday (Jan. 5, 2015) that Li had been “removed” and replaced by Wang Jianjun. It cited documents from the Shanghai Municipal Government.
A spokesman for SMG told Variety that the move reflected the restructuring maneuvers that Li has engineered since 2009 and which by 2012 had made SMG the second-largest state media company in revenue terms behind China Central Television. Last year Li orchestrated the merger of two of SMG’s stock market listed subsidiaries, BesTV New Media and Shanghai Oriental Pearl.
“Since the foundation of the new SMG after the merger of the previous Shanghai Media Entertainment Group and SMG on March 31, 2014, Mr. Li has been Party Chief of SMG Communist Party of China Committee, Chairman and President of SMG,” the SMG source said. “At the end of 2014, Mr. Li resigned the president position and Wang Jianjun, Deputy Party Chief and EVP of SMG, was appointed as president of SMG. Mr. Li will continue to be Party Chief of SMG Committee and Chairman of SMG.”
Sources quoted by Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post said that Li was last year offered a bigger role at SMG, but that he preferred to build a fresh media empire with CMC. CMC owns the Star China TV channels acquired from News Corp., the Fortune Star film library and investigative financial publication Caixin.
Through the joint operation of SMG and CMC, Li has become involved in at least three Hollywood-facing business partnerships.
CMC last year raised its first U.S.-dollar denominated funding tranche, bringing in foreign investors including WPP, Warner Bros. Entertainment and Ratpac Entertainment.
In October SMG and CMC Capital Partners followed that move by launching an investment platform called CMC Creative Fund in an alliance with Warner Bros., RatPac and WPP.
SMG has a number of connections with Disney, which is building its first Chinese theme park in the city. Last month SMG and Disney expanded their relationship from a development deal into one they described as “a multifaceted strategic alliance” and “a unique and far-reaching cooperation.”
Disney and SMG announced that Disneynature film “Born in China” had begun production and is scheduled for worldwide theatrical release in 2016.
With Jeffrey Katzenberg’s DreamWorks Animation and Shanghai Alliance Investment Limited, both CMC and SMG are joint venture partners in Oriental DreamWorks, an ambitious animation factory that is currently working on “Kung Fu Panda 3.” CMC and China Development Bank are financing the Dream Center, a Shanghai-based theme park that also involves DreamWorks Animation.
Li and SMG were also close to Viacom’s Sumner Redstone a decade ago when SMG cut deals to co-produce kids entertainment with Nickelodeon and syndicate content from MTV Networks.