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Relativity Media expands in China with new deal, partners

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Beverly Hills-based Relativity Media has a new deal to promote and distribute Chinese films in the U.S.

Relativity Media is leaping into the business of distributing Chinese films in the U.S. and is taking on new investment from Chinese partners that will allow it to expand its annual release slate to over 15 movies by 2015-2016, the company announced Monday at the Shanghai International Film Festival.

Beverly Hills-based Relativity said it is pairing with China’s state-run agency that oversees the promotion and distribution of Chinese films overseas; the first title Relativity will tout is “Imperial Consort Yang,” an epic war romance set during the Tang Dynasty. The film, currently in production, is directed by Cheng Shiqing and the cast includes Fan Bingbing, Leon Lai, Wu Chun, Joan Chen and Ning Jing.

China’s box office has been growing rapidly and is second only to the U.S., but the country has struggled to find an audience for its own films overseas. Promoting its “soft power” through cultural exports is a priority for the country's leadership, but China has yet to produce anything close to a Hollywood-type global blockbuster.

In addition to distributing Chinese movies stateside, Relativity will help promote Chinese titles at international film festivals and will receive a fee from the state agency, China Film Promotion International.

The distribution deal comes as Relativity has found financial backing from two new Chinese partners, Jiangsu Broadcasting Corp. -- which has 14 TV stations, 11 radio stations, a film studio, newspapers and online entities -- and SeedShine Capital, an investment management company with strong ties to China's media and entertainment sector. 

"Relativity has deep and growing ties to China, one of the world's most dynamic and vibrant film markets, and the partnerships we announced today will further strengthen the robust foundation we have built in China," Ryan Kavanaugh, chief executive of Relativity, said in a statement.

"The partnerships ... will deepen our relationship with the Chinese media and entertainment industry and provide a world-class platform from which to co-develop Chinese and international film and television content from two leading organizations.”

Neither Jiangsu nor SeedShine divulged the size of their investments in Relativity.

The new deals add to Relativity’s presence in mainland China. The company owns SkyLand Entertainment, a film distribution and financing company based in Beijing.

In addition to expanding its release slate, Relativity said the new investments would allow it to invest more in digitally focused content and distribution channels, including mobile. The company said it also intends to acquire film and TV libraries, TV production and distribution networks, and advertising and branding agencies.

Meanwhile, Relativity said it was entering into a “strategic advisory agreement” with Industrial and Commercial Bank of China. In remarks to the media at the festival, Kavanaugh indicated that the arrangement was a preparatory step for an eventual move to take the company public.

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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