China's Wanda Takes on Disney, DreamWorks Animation With Plan for 200 Theme Parks

3:08 AM PST 08/13/2014 by Clifford Coonan
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Wanda has designs on becoming the biggest multiplatform entertainment company in the world

Wanda Group, China’s biggest real estate company and the world’s largest cinema chain, is planning to build 200 children’s theme parks by 2020, local media reported, making it the country’s biggest kids' entertainment company.

The parks are set to provide domestic competition for U.S. giants DreamWorks and The Walt Disney Company, both of which have big plans for China.

Shanghai Disneyland, the first Disney park on the Chinese mainland, is scheduled to open in the city's Pudong district at the end of next year.

In March, DreamWorks Animation and its Chinese partners unveiled designs for a $2.4 billion entertainment complex, also in Shanghai.

General manager of Wanda’s children's entertainment unit, Qiu Xiaojun, said the parks, which translate from Chinese as "Wanda Baby King Park," were similar in some ways to Disney theme parks and would feature cartoon images based on a 52-episode series of animations that Wanda had commissioned.

The announcement comes just days after Wanda, which has significant overseas ambitions, said it would spend $1.2 billion on a plot in Beverly Hills for its U.S. entertainment business HQ.

Wanda chairman Wang Jianlin, who is China's richest individual and who bought the AMC theater chain for $2.6 billion in 2012, said in a speech in Shanghai that the parks were aimed at encouraging better relations between parents and children.

He pointed out how Wanda Baby King was central to the group’s plans to expand in the cultural and entertainment sector.

Couples are allowed one offspring under the One Child Policy introduced by the Communist Party more than 30 years ago, but the policy is being relaxed to combat the problem of an ageing population. Different minority groups, rural residents and the children of single children are allowed more than one.

China has 220 million children under the age of 12, around 15 percent of the total population. Of these, 12.7 percent are below 8 years old.

Between 2007 and 2025, China would add 16 million children every year, and disposable income on children accounts for nearly 30 percent of household income.

Each theme park will be around 3,000 to 5,000 square meters (32,000 to 53,800 square feet), and will involve a range of activities for children, including special events for toddlers, themed photography, birthday parties, family restaurants and a special plaza for babies.

The first round of parks will come this year with parks in cities including Dongguan, Kunming, Xishan, Anhui province and at Wanda Plaza in the Beijing suburb of Tongzhou. There will be 109 Wanda Baby King parks by the end of this year, with the total rising by 25 each year from 2015-2020.

Wanda Baby King will also be integrated as a component in the group’s existing malls and department stores, such as Wanda Plaza.

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