Finland's Rovio Entertainment plans to soon expand the reach of its Angry Birds video-game empire across China with a multipronged initiative into shops, theme parks and the mainland's vast non-3G mobile subscriber population.
But the company shot down recent speculation that it has decided to list its shares in Hong Kong or another major Asian market by next year. 'That has not been confirmed,' said Henri Holm, the senior vice-president in charge of Rovio's Asia operations.
'China is an integral part of the company's growth strategy. Statistically, for us to reach our target of 1 billion connected fans, China presents a very big base,' he said.
Holm, who spoke to reporters on the sidelines of the Asian Licensing Conference in Wan Chai yesterday, said the company and licensing partner PPW Sports & Entertainment (Hong Kong) were in discussions with various potential partners to boost the presence of Angry Birds as a so-called 'lifestyle brand' on the mainland and Hong Kong.
Angry Birds, which was first released as an application on Apple's iPhone in December 2009, has since become the most popular video game on smartphones, media tablets, game consoles and personal computers. It has achieved more than 600 million downloads worldwide as of last month, with China emerging as its second-biggest market after the United States.
Ivan Chan, the chief executive of PPW Sports & Entertainment, said the immediate goal was to tap into the merchandising opportunities for the video game through the development of stores inside shopping malls and small recreation centres that Rovio calls 'activity parks', where gamers can interact.
Rovio last month established its first activity park with Finnish playgrounds specialist Lappset, which designs and makes Angry Birds playground equipment. These include swings, sandboxes, climbing towers and slides and street furniture.
The flagship Angry Birds store opened last November in Helsinki, stocked with gaming accessories, shirts, plush toys and bags.
Holm said Rovio was also looking at setting up a larger Angry Birds-themed amusement park. He said this potential was revealed after the discovery last year of an unlicensed development in Changsha, Hunan province. The city's amusement park has a giant slingshot, where people can fire a giant, wingless bird to knock down a tower where pigs are hiding, following the game's scenario.
Rovio will also start this first quarter pre-loading its popular game on a range of non-3G mobile phones to provide more mainland mobile subscribers with a similar Angry Birds experience that 3G smartphones provide. The mainland had about 970 million mobile users as of November, with only 110 million on 3G networks.
Holm said Rovio was also keen to explore how it could further grow via advanced internet-connected 'smart' televisions.