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China’s Richest Man Is Going After Hollywood Studio Paramount

Jul 14, 2016

The conglomerate run by China's richest man Wang Jianlin, Dalian Wanda Group, is after a 49% stake in Hollywood studio Paramount, Reuters reported.

If completed, the deal would be Wanda's second major dive into Hollywood, after its January buyout of Hollywood producer Legendary Pictures for $3.5 billion marked Asia's biggest deal in Tinseltown since Sony (sne) acquired Columbia Pictures in the late 1980s.

The deal is anything but certain, however. Paramount's owner Viacom (viab) is in the midst of an ongoing struggle over the future of the company. The row is being fought between controlling shareholder Sumner Redstone, who opposes the Paramount sale, and CEO Philippe Dauman, who supports it.

Should a deal come to fruition, it would make a quick Hollywood prince out of Wanda's Wang Jianlin, who is in the midst of transforming Wanda from a real estate developer in China to an international conglomerate focused on consumer services, particularly tourism, entertainment, and sports. Last year it spent $5 billion on overseas acquisitions including race promoter World Triathalon Corp ., Infront Sports & Media (which holds broadcasting rights for the next two World Cups), and a piece of Spanish soccer club Atlético Madrid.

This spring, Wanda opened a theme park in southern China that Wang said would make Disney wish it hadn't opened its Shanghai Disneyland. “They shouldn’t have entered China,” Wang warned Disney (dis) in May.

Wanda is also building a movie studio in the former Germany-controlled costal town of Qingdao that it hopes will rival Hollywood's offerings. "While Wanda Studios Qingdao was designed to take advantage of the new geographic mobility of movie production, the operation offered something that its global competitors could not: special access to the fastest growing film market in the world," wrote Henry McGee and Willy Shih in a Harvard Business School case study of the studio, which is set to be completed next spring.

Wang says Wanda's investments in film and entertainment are simply means of following the trends in China. "Why did Wanda go into the cultural industry and sports industry?" Wang said in a speech last year. "The cultural industry in the U.S. accounts for 24% of GDP. U.S. top exports are not weapons and passenger planes, but cultural products, which include movies, music, comics and book copyrights etc. Currently, the cultural industry in China accounts for just 3% of GDP."

The Paramount deal would be among Wanda's most ambitious. Viacom wants the deal to value Paramount between $8 billion and $10 billion, the Wall Street Journal reported. That's would amount to a higher sum than Wanda paid for Legendary or the U.S. theater chain AMC, which it bought for $2.6 billion back in 2012.

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