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CinemaCon: Wanda CEO counsels friendship and patience in China

April 16, 2013|By Richard Verrier

Rampant piracy, government censorship and foreign quotas can make China a highly unpredictable and frustrating market for Hollywood.

But one of China's top entertainment executives has some homespun advice: Make friends and be patient.

"To succeed in China, it's like the old the Chinese saying: Before business, make friends," said Jerry Ye, chief executive of Wanda Cinemas, at an international panel on the opening day of Cinemacon, the annual convention for the theater industry held in Las Vegas.

Ye also urged his American colleagues to see the long-term growth prospects of China, which is in the midst of a multiplex building boom and has emerged as the world's second-largest market for movies.

"By the end of 2020, the box office will surprise America," said Ye, whose company last year acquired AMC Entertainment and aims to further expand into Europe. "Work hard to grasp the opportunity."

Richard Gelfond, chief executive of Imax Corp., which has more than 100 theaters in China and is partners with Wanda, acknowledged the challenges of doing business in China.

"Some days it's the land of riches, some days it's like a disaster you're never going to see your way out of," Gelfond said during the Monday afternoon panel. "You have to take the long-term view."

Gelfond also urged his colleagues to develop close relationships with reliable Chinese partners.

"A lot of U.S. companies go into China like they did in South America and say, 'Here's a market for the picking,'" he said. "We tried to figure out ways not only for how we could make money, but how our partners could make money."

Fellow panelist Chris Dodd, chairman of the Motion Picture Assn. of America, agreed that China represented a big growth market for American studios but cautioned that the country needs to do more to curb piracy of movies.

"You cannot grow and sustain an industry if you don't deal with this issue," Dodd said. "You could get too patient about this and end up doing a lot of damage to the industry."

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