IPO seen as Wang's Hollywood outreach

Updated: 2013-09-11 05:33

By MICHAEL BARRIS in New York (chinadaily.com.cn)

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Wang Jianlin's efforts to take US movie theater operator AMC Entertainment Holdings Inc public might not inspire a Hollywood movie. But they could reward the cinema tycoon's ambition to land hefty business deals in the capital of the US film industry.

A year after being acquired for about $2.6 billion by Wang's Dalian Wanda Group Co – both a real estate conglomerate and the world's biggest owner of movie theaters – AMC said in a regulatory filing it plans to raise up to an estimated $400 million in an initial public offering. Details on the number and price of the shares in the offering weren't disclosed.

Analysts said the IPO filing – AMC's third attempt in recent years to gain a US stock-market listing – was noteworthy, not just because of Wang's deep pockets as the richest man in China with an estimated fortune of $14 billion, or because of the distribution synergies created by Dalian's acquisition of AMC, the second-largest North American movie theater owner after Regal Entertainment.

At the end of the day, "this may be a way for China to get closer to Hollywood," Bloomberg TV deals reporter Cristina Alesci said in a broadcast. "This may be his (Wang's) way of bridging the gap between what China is doing in terms of developing and producing its own content and maybe bringing over some Hollywood films into the country in a way that it hasn't been able to break into before."

Wang's fascination with Tinseltown is evident. Three months after Dalian Wanda acquired AMC, the company was reportedly in talks with leading Hollywood studios to co-produce films. Today, Wang's Beijing Wanda Culture Industry Group is a cultural juggernaut with interests not only in film, but also in TV, theater and theme parks. With projected 2013 revenue of $12.8 billion, the group has 11 companies, including AMC, Wanda Cinema Line, Wanda Film & TV Media Co, Wanda Theme Park Co, Wanda Gallery and the Popular Cinema film magazine.

When the Wanda Media-co-produced costume-drama love story, The Palace, premiered in August, it signaled Dalian Wanda's intention to step up its presence in the cultural industry. That mission includes a plan to distribute nine films and produce eight annually over the next three years, it said.

The company aims for agreements with major Hollywood studios on movie financing and distribution rights for China, "while also seeking to co-produce films with international companies," the group said in a statement.

A key factor behind the expansion of the Chinese film business has been an upswing in the number of shopping mall-theaters opening across China. Wanda built many of those malls.

Observers call Wang's forays overseas examples of China's "soft power", or cultural diplomacy, looking to win hearts and minds and promote understanding of China abroad. Wang has advised other Chinese companies interested in investing in the United States to avoid sensitive areas such as defense, telecoms and political issues, Reuters reported.

"Chinese enterprises being able to go to the US and acquire companies does represent a kind of soft power," he was quoted as saying. "But this is just the beginning. Chinese firms still lag far behind American companies. Maybe in 10 or 20 years we can stand at the same level."

Chinese companies should try to do something American people would appreciate, Wang told Reuters, such as investing in areas like Kansas or Iowa that really need capital. Exemplifying that spirit, after closing the acquisition of AMC, which is based in Kansas City, Missouri, Wang donated more than $1.3 million to public high schools in the city – and across the state line in Kansas City, Kansas.

Wang described the donation as "a contribution aimed at supporting the future". Nothing, he said, "is more important to communities anywhere in the world than the development and well-being of our children."