Dick Clark Productions isn't exactly a household name. Most people probably don't even notice when it scrolls across the screen at the end of the Golden Globes telecast or some other awards show. But a Chinese billionaire just agreed to buy it for about $1 billion—and that's just the beginning.
The company's new owner is Wang Jianlin, a 62-year-old former People’s Liberation Army commander turned real estate developer. He is one of China's richest men, with a net worth estimated at $32 billion.
Wang controls the Dalian Wanda Group, and already owns a few U.S. entertainment interests, including the AMC movie theater chain, which he acquired in 2012 for $2.6 billion. That company has since agreed to buy competitor Carmike Cinemas for $1.4 billion, which will make Wanda the largest theater owner in the world.
In January, the Wanda Group paid $3.5 billion in cash for Legendary Entertainment, the movie studio that has either produced or co-financed films such as Pacific Rim and The Dark Knight.
Wanda—which had revenues last year of $39 billion—owns 134 shopping malls, 82 luxury hotels, 213 movie theaters, 99 department stores, and 54 karaoke centers around China. Last year, it acquired the company that stages Ironman Triathlons for almost $1 billion in cash and debt.
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When Legendary Entertainment was being merged with one of Wanda's public holding companies in China, it became obvious just how much Wang wants to own Hollywood assets. According to a regulatory filing, he paid $3.5 billion despite the fact that it lost $550 million last year—more than it generated in revenue.
Industry sources say Wang also paid a premium for Dick Clark Productions, in part because of its control over U.S. shows like the Golden Globes and the Miss America pageant. The billionaire has reportedly assured the Hollywood Foreign Press Association—the body that chooses the Golden Globe winners—that he has no intention of interfering in the award process.
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The production company was acquired by Guggenheim Partners and Mandalay Entertainment in 2012 for a reported $370 million, from a private-equity fund controlled by Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder.
Last year, Dick Clark was sold to Eldridge Industries, a company run by former Guggenheim president Todd Boehly, for an undisclosed sum. Some industry sources say it is worth much less than $1 billion, but Wang is apparently prepared to pay almost any sum to buy into Hollywood.
Viacom has since shelved its plans to sell off a stake in Paramount after former CEO Philippe Dauman was ousted by billionaire Sumner Redstone and his daughter Shari earlier this year. Redstone is said to be sentimentally attached to Paramount, which he acquired in 1994 for $10 billion.
That has left Wang shopping for more acquisitions. But his aggressive moves to buy U.S. media assets have already set off alarm bells in Washington.
In September, a group of congressmen sent a letter calling for the new Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S. to review Chinese acquisitions of large U.S. media companies, based on the same kind of national security criteria that it uses when assessing aerospace and other deals.
The letter specifically referred to Wanda’s recent acquisitions, which the representatives in question said have heightened "concerns about China’s efforts to censor topics and exert propaganda controls on American media."