Dalian Wanda made big waves in Hollywood nearly a year ago, when it backed away from a $1 billion deal to buy Dick Clark Productions.
Pay attention to the smaller waves the Beijing-based conglomerate generated last week, when Jack Ma, founder of Alibaba Group, agreed to pay $743 million for a stake in the company’s Wanda Film. The subsidiary includes the parent company’s film production and distribution operations and its cinemas in China.
The deal was about China, to be sure – it did not include any stake in Dalian Wanda’s Leawood, Kan.-based AMC cinema chain or Legendary Entertainment in Burbank.
Ma’s company – something akin to China’s version of Amazon.com – joined in the deal with government-affiliated Cultural Investment Holdings, which put up $495 million.
It looks as though Ma will get about 8 percent of Wanda Film, valued at roughly $9.5 billion, with his government-backed partner controlling around 5 percent.
This matters greatly to Los Angeles and the entertainment industry that serves as a keystone of our economy for some reasons that might not be obvious.
Ma is a visionary and a Chinese patriot – at least we believe so based on his public utterances. Consider his comments in November 2014, when he shared top billing with Apple Inc.’s Tim Cook at the Wall Street Journal’s inaugural WSJ D.Live conference at the Montage Laguna Beach.
Ma spoke eloquently of the economic, environmental and civic challenges that have arisen in his homeland, where a headlong rush toward development in recent decades has bred plenty of billionaires on the watch of the governing Communist Party of China.
The rush also has bred a degree of cynicism that Ma identified as a societal threat.
Then he told a crowd that included Rupert Murdoch, Carlos Slim, Marc Andreesen, Jeffery Katzenberg and Steve Ballmer, among others, that China needs heroes as an alternative to cynicism if it hopes to meet its challenges.
Heroes are made of stories, Ma said.
And movies tell stories in a way that is ideally suited to contemporary China, he concluded.
Ma is one of those billionaires who grew out of China’s recent economic rush.
He made it clear that he’s aware that even billionaires have to know how to give and take in dealing with China’s central government.
He also signaled that he’s a tough merchant – he knows how many jobs the global giant he founded provides, and how much China needs every one of them.
His alliance with a government-affiliated entity to get a chunk of Wanda Film seems to indicate that he’s found a path forward as a Chinese storyteller.
What does this mean for Hollywood, where many have benefited from Chinese interest in assets over here?
Jack Ma might have China’s entertainment industry ready for its close up before you know it.
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