As the archetype for entertainment production, Hollywood possesses a distinctive allure that has traditionally attracted investment from a multitude of sources. This effect has been further compounded in recent years given the increasingly globalized nature of business in 2016. As a result, international players now benefit more than ever from the opportunity to cultivate their domestic capabilities within the sphere of entertainment by investing in, strategically partnering with, or acquiring mainstay American organizations. A significant story that is emerging from the confluence of these factors is the marked increase of dealmaking between Chinese entities and Hollywood.
Admittedly, there has been a great deal of talk that has occurred throughout much of the past decade between the US and China within this particular context. However, recent years have offered a perceptible shift in tone and witnessed a veritable surge in high profile deals that seemingly indicate a new level of comfort and faith related to the benefits of mutual cooperation between east and west.
Without question there are economic incentives that exist on both sides of the table. And while these deals come in many forms, at the core they essentially amount to the same quid pro quo exchange. In simple terms, Chinese capital buys American expertise, technology, business models, and a stake in Hollywood's success, while the American side gets a new source of capital and increased access to the world's fastest growing entertainment market. This might be construed as an oversimplification, but it is nonetheless a useful characterization from a conceptual standpoint.
In addition, there are macro-political aims in play for the Chinese in the long term. China wants to be able to use these new collective proficiencies within the entertainment space as a foothold to generate a form of 'soft power'—which they view now as a monopoly of the West—to bolster China's global influence and entertain China's rapidly growing middle class.
While this trend can be thought of as a relatively recent development, there are many examples one can point to that exemplify this theme. The Wanda Group has been notably prolific and has served as a trendsetter of sorts in demonstrating the viability of these strategic initiatives. Its most recent move was undoubtedly the most headline grabbing, acquiring Legendary Pictures for $3.5 billion in January of this year.
Another example is Perfect World Pictures which engaged Manatt to help reach a deal with Universal Studios for a significant stake in a slate of 50 films. The deal, reportedly worth $500 million, is the largest direct investment ever by a Chinese company in the films of one of the six major studios. For Perfect World, the deal was strategic as well as financial. The partnership with Universal enhanced its global profile and additionally provided important insight into the workings of the global film industry.
Jack Ma's Alibaba has also been notably active. Most recently, it invested in two Paramount films: "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows" and "Star Trek Beyond,"marking the second time that the e-commerce giant has invested in a Paramount title. The company plans to eventually import these films to China and release them through state-owned distributors.
Indeed, for a time it appeared a Chinese company might purchase a minority stake in Paramount itself. While that prospect has become more remote as the Redstone family re-asserts control over Viacom, the next few years could well see a Chinese entity acquire a significant stake in a major U.S. film studio. Only time will tell, but given the current climate there is no reason to suspect otherwise.
Taken collectively, these developments indicate that the frequency of these strategic alliances will not dissipate anytime soon. China's proactive effort to integrate within Hollywood is an important dynamic that will continue to evolve in the years to come and will undoubtedly play a significant role in shaping the entertainment industry at large.