Chinese conglomerate Dalian Wanda Group is in talks to buy a controlling stake in the iconic Dick Clark Productions, a move that would further accelerate its rapid push into Hollywood.
The deal would value the production firm at as much as $1 billion, according to one person familiar with the process who was not authorized to speak publicly.
Dick Clark's name invokes Hollywood royalty. Formed 61 years ago by the late television entrepreneur and his longtime business partner, Dick Clark Productions is the entity behind such high-profile live television shows as the Golden Globe Awards, Academy of Country Music Awards, Billboard Music Awards and "Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin' Eve With Ryan Seacrest."
Four years ago, a consortium led by Guggenheim Partners paid about $380 million to buy Dick Clark Productions. The firm is now controlled by Eldridge Industries, which recently announced that it was conducting a "strategic review of its media holdings."
The companies on Monday confirmed the talks, which were first reported by the Wall Street Journal.
"Dick Clark Productions and Beijing Wanda Culture Industry Group Co., Ltd., have agreed to enter into exclusive talks with the shared goal of finalizing a mutually satisfactory transaction," said a spokesman for Eldridge Industries, which controls Dick Clark Productions.
Wanda is backed by China's richest man, Wang Jianlin. The company owns AMC Theatres -- the second-largest theater chain in the U.S. -- and is seeking to buy Georgia-based Carmike Cinemas, which would make Wanda the biggest theater owner in the U.S.
Wanda has made aggressive moves to expand its footprint in Hollywood. Last week, the Chinese conglomerate announced a partnership with Sony Pictures, giving it some creative control over upcoming Sony films.
Earlier this year, Wanda spent $3.5 billion to buy Burbank production company Legendary Entertainment, which was a producer on such blockbuster movies as "The Dark Knight," for Warner Bros. and "Jurassic World" for Universal Pictures.
This summer Wanda was close to acquiring 49% of the historic Paramount Pictures movie studio, although that deal collapsed because of resistance from Sumner Redstone and his daughter, Shari Redstone, the controlling shareholders of Viacom Inc., the parent company of Paramount.
Eldridge Industries has several investors and is controlled by Todd Boehly, who is a part owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Boehly left Guggenheim last year to run his own portfolio of Hollywood assets, previously held by Guggenheim, including Dick Clark Productions and the trade publications Billboard and the Hollywood Reporter.
The prospective Dick Clark deal comes as lawmakers have expressed misgivings about the growing clout of Wanda and other Chinese investors. A group of 16 members of Congress sent a letter to the Government Accountability Office this month asking for greater scrutiny of China's investments in American entertainment companies.
The letter cited Wanda's purchase of Legendary and AMC and expressed "growing concerns" about the potential for Chinese censorship and propaganda in Hollywood movies.
Wang, in an interview on Chinese television early this month, said he hopes to "change the world where rules are set by foreigners."
Stanley Rosen, a USC political science professor and China expert, said acquiring Dick Clark Productions would make sense for Wanda, but he questioned whether the Santa Monica-based studio was worth $1 billion.
"It would continue to establish their credibility as a major player," Rosen said of Wanda's ambitions. "The question would be how would it benefit them or China? … [Wang] still has the aim to buy a studio, and that is a much bigger catch."
In addition to the live events, Dick Clark Productions also has a vast library of archives including old footage from "American Bandstand" and the award shows that the company now presents. Its media archives include performances by Madonna, James Brown, Stevie Wonder, the Rolling Stones, Lady Gaga and Taylor Swift, among others.
Dick Clark Productions has a contract with NBC to air the Golden Globes through 2018 in an agreement with the Hollywood Foreign Press Assn., which owns the program. The production firm and the foreign journalists' group got into a nasty feud several years ago over the distribution rights to the popular awards show. At that time, Dick Clark Productions was owned by Red Zone Capital Management Co.
Dick Clark first sold the company in 2002 for $140 million. The legendary performer died in 2012.