by Robert Cain for China Film Biz
May 14, 2012
Leading Chinese independent production and distribution company Bona Film Group has taken an undisclosed investment from 20th Century Fox parent company News Corp in exchange for a 19.9 percent stake in the company. Bona founder Yu Dong sold the stake directly from his personal holdings, at a price I estimate was around $75 million, given that Bona’s market capitalization is $386 million as of today.
On its face the tie-up looks like a good one for both sides (Bona’s ADR shares traded at new 52-week highs today), and it marks another significant advance in News Corp’s strategy to participate in content production and distribution in China. My contacts at Fox and News Corp didn’t wish to be quoted, but they pointed out that the Bona investment is merely one element in the company’s broad, ongoing China strategy. An element of that strategy that is of particular interest to filmmakers is Fox’s continuing support for and success with the Fox International Pictures division, which was the first U.S. studio venture to commit to consistently invest in Chinese language films.
Founded in 2003, Bona has established itself as one of China’s most important independent distributors. Bona holds a roughly 10 percent share of the Chinese theatrical market this year, as the distributor of such hits as Flying Swords of Dragon Gate, The Great Magician, and A Simple Life, and co-distributor of the family animated film Pleasant Goat and Big Big Wolf: Happy Year of the Dragon Chuang.
In my own dealings with Bona I have found them to be among the more professional and capable Chinese players. They are always on the lookout for film projects both for their domestic market and for international co-production, and the News Corp relationship will better position them to transact deals in both arenas. In a joint press release, Bona’s Yu Dong was ebullient:
“We are thrilled to receive this strategic investment from News Corporation,” said Dong Yu, Founder, Chairman and CEO of Bona Film Group Limited. “As one of the leading film distributors in China, we are committed to bringing the best quality Chinese films to broad audiences around the world. News Corporation’s extensive global reach, investment and distribution will help accelerate our strategy to expand our global footprint.”
Speaking for News Corp, Senior VP Jack Gao discussed his company’s rationale for the investment:
“One of Bona’s unique advantages is its vertically-integrated business model, which differentiates the Company from other film distributors in China,” said Dr. Jack Gao, SVP, News Corporation & CEO, News Corporation China Investments. “China’s film market is growing at a rapid pace, positioning the country to be the second largest film market following the United States, and Bona’s market leadership, compelling value proposition and tremendous growth potential make this an attractive opportunity for News Corporation.”
Given the natural strategic benefits that can be had between U.S. and Chinese media players, don’t be surprised to see more such investments and partnerships in the coming months.
Robert Cain is a producer and entertainment industry consultant who has been doing business in China since 1987. He can be reached at email@example.com and at www.pacificbridgepics.com