Television Broadcasts (TVB)

‘China’s Rupert Murdoch’ takes full control of animation studio behind Kung Fu Panda 3

The animation studio, the first major tie-up between Hollywood and China, is being offloaded by NBCUniversal after just six years

PUBLISHED : Friday, 02 February, 2018, 6:58pm
UPDATED : Friday, 02 February, 2018, 10:53pm

CMC Capital Partners, led by media mogul Li Ruigang, dubbed China’s Rupert Murdoch, announced on Friday that it has acquired full ownership of animation studio Oriental DreamWorks from partner NBCUniversal and plans to rebrand it as Pearl Studio.

The Shanghai-based Oriental DreamWorks – the first major tie-up between Hollywood and China – was behind the global box office hit Kung Fu Panda 3, one of the highest grossing animation films in China, raking in about US$143.5 million at home and US$377.6 million worldwide in 2016. 

NBCUniversal, a subsidiary of Comcast, inherited a 45 per cent stake in the studio when it bought Jeffery Katzenberg’s DreamWorks Animation for US$3.8 billion in 2016. 

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“We are enormously grateful to our joint venture partners and especially NBCUniversal,” said Li, chairman and chief executive officer of CMC Capital Partners. “The animation market could not be stronger right now in China or globally. We believe Pearl Studio is in a very unique and enviable position to be a bold new independent voice in the animation community.”

NBCUniversal’s decision to offload its stake in the five-year-old animation studio is not surprising because of its widely reported disagreements with CMC, say industry observers.

The Financial Times reported last year that NBCUniversal and CMC had reached an impasse over differences of opinion about the studio’s strategy, with Li telling the paper at the time that he would like the studio to focus more on China, while NBCUniversal wanted to make films in China for the rest of the world.

But Li denied he had any disagreements with NBCUniversal in a recent interview with mainland media Tencent Yixian.

“The [disagreement] is an exaggeration,” said Li. “There is no such problem.”

“We have tremendous respect for Li Ruigang and CMC, and look forward to many opportunities to work together as they continue to build this business as Pearl Studio,” said Jeff Shell, chairman of Universal Filmed Entertainment Group, in a statement on Friday. 

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After the deal, CMC and NBCUniversal will continue to collaborate on the studio’s new film Everest, which is expected to release in 2019. The Jill Culton directed comedy-adventure will be

distributed by Universal Pictures outside China, and by the Pearl Studio in China.

Founded in 2009 by Li, CMC, previously known as China Media Capital, is the mainland’s first fund dedicated to media and entertainment investments in China and abroad.

The company also owns an indirect stake in Hong Kong broadcaster TVB through an entity called Young Lion Holdings, which owns 26 per cent of TVB. In January, TVB withdrew a share buy-back offer, which would have raised Li’s stake in the broadcaster. The proposal faced strong resistance because it challenged Hong Kong’s broadcast ordinance, which stipulates that only local residents can be the beneficiary controller of a licence.