Dalian Wanda Group is selling shares worth 7.8 billion yuan ($1.2 billion) in his Chinese movie-theater chain to
and a firm partly backed by the government as he seeks to pay down debt at his flagship company.
Wanda Film owns and operates about 500 theaters and 4,000 screens on the mainland. The investment could open the door to future partnerships between Alibaba and Wanda’s other showbiz units, such as Hollywood production company Legendary Entertainment, and may expand the e-commerce company’s data bank through access to Wanda’s film-goers and their customer data.
Wanda is now in business with China’s two largest internet giants as it moves to shore up its balance sheet. The company struck an agreement in late January to sell a 34-billion-yuan stake in its property business, which mainly comprises shopping malls, to a group that included Chinese social-media titan Tencent Holdings Ltd.
Last year, Wanda came under fire from Beijing for its aggressive overseas deal-making, which curtailed the company’s ability to pay for overseas acquisitions and repay debt. The company since has sold billions of dollars in assets both in China and abroad.
In a regulatory filing Monday, Mr. Wang’s publicly listed cinema unit, Wanda Film Holding Co., said it would sell a stake of more than 12% to Alibaba and
, a film company partly owned by the Beijing municipal government.
Alibaba will buy a 7.7% stake in Wanda Film for about 4.7 billion yuan, while Cultural Investment will take a stake of about 5% for 3.1 billion yuan, Wanda Film said.
Wanda Film said the deal with Alibaba was signed to strengthen their partnership in movie distribution, film investment, advertising and online ticket sales.
Alibaba’s forays into entertainment has lagged Chinese rivals Tencent Holdings and
Alibaba’s film-production and digital-entertainment units also operate at a loss.
Trading in Wanda Film, which is listed on the Shenzhen stock exchange, has been suspended for almost half a year after its shares plummeted by nearly 10% on online speculation that lenders had issued a notice to unload bonds tied to its parent company. Dalian Wanda dismissed the rumors.
For Dalian Wanda, the investment could help usher its bricks-and-mortar theater operations into the digital era amid slowing growth at the box office. Movie-ticket sales in the world’s second-largest economy grew 14% last year to 55.9 billion yuan, the country’s media regulator said, which was slower than an average growth rate of 34% between 2011 and 2015.
Industry insiders say the rise of video-streaming in China now competes for consumers’ time and money.
Corrections & Amplifications
Wanda Film Holding said it would sell a stake of more than 12% to Alibaba Group Holding and Cultural Investment Holdings. An earlier version of this article incorrectly said the stake was 12%. (Feb. 5, 2018)