Shane McMahon has never been afraid to knock on doors.
When he was just 5, his dad — wrestling impresario and WWE Chairman Vince McMahon — put him to work going from barbershop to barbershop asking if he could hang up fliers and posters for upcoming matches.
Years later, McMahon was still selling for his father. Only this time around, the doors he was knocking on were in Eastern Europe and China. As the WWE's executive vice president of global media, the younger McMahon was instrumental in getting WWE content and events in almost 150 countries.
Now McMahon, 41, is trying to do for Hollywood what he did for WWE. This week his company You on Demand formed a partnership with Warner Bros. to get the studio's movies into China via pay-per-view and video-on-demand cable platforms. You on Demand has access to homes in China through a 20-year pact with China Home Cinema, the pay-television arm of that country's CCTV-6 network.
The next step is to sign up cable operators to deliver the content into homes. You On Demand has said it expects to have as many as 3 million subscribers this summer.
China, and its population of 1.3 billion, has become a priority for Hollywood. The Motion Picture Assn. of America is trying to get the Chinese government to ease up on its restrictions on foreign films and double the current quota to as many as 40.
Cable represents another window into the market, and Warner Bros. will make new releases as well as older ones available through You on Demand.
McMahon is confident that he is entering a buyer's market in China. The heavy piracy there has convinced him that consumers are hungry for content.
"If you give them access and it's better quality, why aren't they going to watch it?" he said, noting that he is "very far down the road" with other studios about signing deals similar to the Warner agreement.
Asked whether he'd be striking any deals with his father for WWE content on You on Demand, McMahon cracked, "I don't know, I'm a tough negotiator."
Up until a few years ago, McMahon was content toiling for his father at WWE. He had been working there since graduating from Boston University in 1993 — holding positions in marketing, sales, promotion and production. He even refereed some matches and got in the ring every now and then as "Shane-O-Mac."
Rising high up the executive ranks, McMahon was seen as a potential successor to his father. There was only one problem. "He wasn't going anywhere," said the younger McMahon, laughing.
As a favor to a friend, McMahon met with Marc Urbach, chief financial officer of what was then known as China Broadband Inc. The company had just secured a license to operate in China, and Urbach, who grew up as a fan of the WWE, wanted to pick McMahon's brains about the region. McMahon had spent a lot of time schmoozing government officials to get WWE content inside the country.
"At first I didn't believe them," McMahon said when he was told the company had a green light to set up shop in China. "Getting the license is the hardest thing in the world." He did his due diligence, even flying to China to visit the company's offices there.
Initially, McMahon was approached about joining China Broadband Inc.'s board of directors. The more time he spent studying the company, the more intrigued he became. He joined the company in late 2009 as its chairman and chief executive and invested $4 million.
"It was the hardest decision I've ever had to make," McMahon said of leaving WWE to strike out on his own. "I didn't want to wake up when I was 70 and say, 'I should have done that.' "
Telling his father he wanted to leave was "brutal," and now, almost two years later, there remains some residual tension, he said. "It's still hard."