The flurry of deals between Hollywood and China from 2012-16 appeared to be born of mutual interest, matching Chinese money with U.S. movie-industry know-how. But the pacts varied wildly in scale and ambition. Returns on investment were weaker than anticipated. Hollywood studios were often unwilling to share their most lucrative franchises with their supposed partners. Other alliances have been overwritten by the changing tectonics of the industry. What’s clear is that Chinese firms have not been exposed as the latest in a line of ignorant investors. In many cases, the Chinese came to learn. They may have discovered that Hollywood is a tough place for outsiders. But, unlike the Japanese hardware companies, German dot-com boomers and Middle Eastern oilmen before them, the Chinese go home to a supercharged domestic industry. Here’s the outlook for some of the pacts that are still standing.
In a slate funding agreement, Chinese film and games player Perfect World is putting up $500 million over five years, and taking a slice of 50 Universal titles. With the opportunity to look at every project circulating in Hollywood, the Chinese firm is focused less on immediate profits than it is on taking a slow, learning approach — and in quietly building its own U.S. business.
Outlook: Look for long-term appreciation.
Robert Simonds’ mini-studio is aiming for an IPO in Hong Kong, close to the seat of many of its blue-chip Chinese investors (Hony, Tencent, PCCW, Huayi Brothers). Successfully going public (by no means a certainty in current conditions) would provide some welcome cash, but the bigger problem is a lack of hits. “Bad Moms” is its only home run to date.
Jeff Robinov’s venture suffered birth pangs, from which it hasn’t fully recovered. It was set up in 2014 with a Sony releasing deal and majority ownership by China’s Fosun, but only after Huayi Brothers bailed out. After the overly ambitious “Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk” in 2016 left the company to do some soul-searching, movies are now coming through the pipeline. “Alpha,” released earlier this month, will be lucky to gross $50 million in the U.S., despite a hefty marketing campaign. September release “White Boy Rick,” starring Matthew McConaughey and Jennifer Jason Leigh, may fare better. The company’s distribution deal with Sony is not expected to be renewed when it ends this year.
Outlook: Fingers crossed.
Dalian Wanda’s deal to buy Legendary at up to $3.5 billion was so off the scale that it allegedly angered Chinese President Xi Jinping and triggered the early 2017 currency controls that have crimped Chinese dealmaking ever since. With franchises including “King Kong,” “Pacific Rim” and “Jurassic World,” Legendary’s price tag should be around $1 billion. It’s not clear whether its changing studio alliances are good news or bad: Distribution recently returned to Warner Bros., after a five-year fling with Universal was not renewed. Wanda, which owns AMC, remains the world’s largest cinema operator, and would love to sell Legendary if only it didn’t lose face.
Outlook: Treading water.
With a quarter of its $1.5 billion production slate being funded by China’s Hunan TV, combined with access to China distribution, it’s curious that the two companies couldn’t find more to do together. Lionsgate seems more interested in improving its position in the U.S., in order to sell itself to a studio or cable giant, than it does in China. Add Chinese currency restrictions and the fact that Hunan’s boss is behind bars, and the situation further devolves. The pact started in 2015 and runs for three years.
Outlook: Time’s up.
Global Road Entertainment
With the U.S. distribution sector a financial black hole for midsize companies, former banker Donald Tang was warned that merging Open Road with sales and finance powerhouse IM Global was a recipe for trouble. While Tang Media Partners supposedly has Chinese and U.S. capital, Global Road, Tang’s flagship, has had trouble raising a further $200 million of equity to help leverage its vision of a $1 billion production slate. In recent days, financiers have stepped in to take over parts of Global Road. If only TMP had had a better shot at building its Chinese business, the omens might have been better.
Outlook: In the hands of Bank of America and East West Bank.