China's Buying Spree Takes Novel Turn in IM Global Deals

Courtesy of Tang Media Partners LLC.; Neilson Barnard/Getty Images
Donald Tang (left) and Stuart Ford

"It's a powerhouse partnership," says one attorney of Tang Media Partners' majority ownership of the foreign sales and film finance company, which will include joint ventures with Chinese media giant Tencent.

On June 2, Tang Media Partners revealed it had acquired majority ownership of IM Global, the Los Angeles film financing, production and foreign sales outfit led by former Miramax exec Stuart Ford.

The deal marks the first time an entity with such deep ties to the Chinese industry has come to control a major foreign sales and film finance company.

Founded in 2015 by former Bear Stearns Asia chairman and CEO Donald Tang, TMP is positioning itself as an ambitious operator of film and television content businesses, with an emphasis on forging connections between China and international markets. While headquartered in Los Angeles, the company counts an impressive array of Chinese backers and associates, including the investment firm China Media Capital, leading studio Huayi Brothers and internet giant Tencent.

Since launching a Beijing office in 2013, IM Global has handled international sales on such recent local Chinese blockbusters as The Mermaid and Breakup Buddies. The company also has actively cultivated a reputation as a go-to foreign distribution partner for Chinese studios — an area of vital importance to China's entertainment industry leadership, which craves a stronger international profile to go with its booming domestic market.

"Our willingness to really engage in the business of exporting Chinese films made us attractive and really distinguished us from other U.S. companies," Ford tells THR. Adds Donald Tang, "IM Global has the global distribution infrastructure, an international team, expertise and market share. With the capital and strategic relationships that we can bring, that business is going to become not just more exciting but more profitable."

The deal also includes a television joint venture and production fund with Tencent, which runs some of China's most popular internet video, messaging and social media services. Exact terms were not disclosed, but the total investment in both the TV and film sides of the deal is said be $200 million.

The television component of the pact represents another important innovation: It is one of the first TV slate co-financing arrangements — a model common for film investment but novel for the small screen. If successful, the deal's structure is expected to be widely replicated.

"The television product will very likely be made with a U.S. domestic market in mind, but the combination of Tencent, IM Global and Tang Media gives the venture a unique position to exploit the programs on a global basis," says Lindsay Conner, an attorney at Manatt with extensive China experience. "You have three entities which have expertise and connections around the globe for television and digital distribution — it's a powerhouse partnership."

This story first appeared in the June 17 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.