Endeavor China was formed two years ago as a joint venture with Sequoia Capital China and others to serve as a country-specific version of its parent company. The goal is to offer clients and partners entrepreneurial options in entertainment, sports, event and retail ventures in the world’s most populous country. As China’s media landscape evolves, sometimes fitfully, Endeavor China aims to establish a beachhead as a diversified media venture and representation firm. The aim is to plant roots in local film, TV and digital content, to bring more Hollywood talent to work in the region and to scout for budding stars with potential for crossover success outside of China.
“We’ve focused on two things in the first two years: hiring the right people with the right industry connections who are also fluent in the cross-border language of entertainment, and building infrastructure,” says Michael Ma, CEO of Endeavor China. “We’re cutting deals with major distributors who are themselves going through change and consolidation at a rapid pace.”
Ma was recruited to head the venture after spending 13 years helping to steer the NBA’s China operations. Endeavor China has aligned with local partners — notably the digital giant Tencent, FountainVest Partners and Focus Media — that have brought them well-placed relationships, capital and market savvy.
Endeavor China already had a sizable presence through IMG and the numerous sports and lifestyle events it produces for the market. Endeavor’s MMA league UFC held its first event last November in Shanghai to an encouraging response; another is set for next month in Beijing. The division also represents a mix of media rights, sponsorship and licensing deals for such blue-chip sports brands as English Premier League, the NHL, Major League Baseball, Wimbledon, and golf’s PGA and LPGA tours.
On the film and TV side, Endeavor China has invested in production banner Perfect Village as part of a joint venture of Village Roadshow Pictures and China’s Perfect World film and gaming group. That brought the company a slate of Chinese-language films to help package and distribute.
In addition to building a solid operation in-country, another big goal is to develop Chinese-language movies and TV shows that will travel well. Those options have been limited to date, but demand is poised to grow as China’s TV content marketplace expands.
Endeavor China set David S. Goyer, the prolific horror and fantasy writer-producer and a WME client, with an unusual multi-picture deal with Tencent that will hopefully yield movies with crossover potential. Endeavor Content also recently struck a deal with Fox Networks Group Asia to develop TV series.
“As they start experimenting more and more with serialized shows and stories that resonate internationally, we’ll see a global appetite for [Chinese TV shows] from Netflix and some of these international streaming platforms — for the right kind of content,” says Alexis Garcia, the Endeavor Content partner who oversees its China operations and works closely with Ma. (Netflix itself is not allowed to operate in China.)
Tennis star Li Na is a good example of a longtime IMG client who has gotten the 360-branding treatment, thanks to the hub of operations that flow through Endeavor China. In the past 18 months the retired Grand Slam champion has launched her own tennis academy in China, a line of apparel with Nike and a branded restaurant. She’s developing a movie about her life and recently launched a production company to focus on unscripted television projects.
Ma and his team are also gearing up for a push behind WME client Crystal Liu, the star of Disney’s live-action “Mulan,” which is set for a March 2020 release in the U.S.
Endeavor is banking big on China’s potential to drive the growth of its spokes-of-the-wheel strategy across the entire Endeavor holding company, from Miss Universe to the bucking broncos in the Professional Bull Riders to the fighters of UFC. But China has famously been a tough place for Hollywood to do business. Ma’s focus is on making sure Endeavor China has the right connections to pounce on opportunities and steer around potential obstacles.
“It’s definitely true that it’s a bit more of a challenging market to navigate,” Ma says. “Once we started building those relationships, we laid the groundwork for operational businesses.”