China Will Own New Year’s Eve in Times Square
Business + Economy

China Will Own New Year’s Eve in Times Square

© Keith Bedford / Reuters

China is about to own New Year’s Eve in New York.

A Chinese billionaire is buying Dick Clark Productions, which owns Dick Clark’s Rockin’ New Year’s Eve as well as other big-name properties such as the Golden Globes, the Country Music Awards and the Billboard Awards. The price tag is about $1 billion, although The Wall Street Journal says it has recently been valued at considerably less.

Now hosted by Ryan Seacrest, the Dick Clark show has been broadcast for more than 40 years and has become a New Year’s Eve tradition for many at home and in Times Square watching the countdown to the next year as the iconic ball drops.

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The buyer is Dalian Wanda Group Co., which is controlled by Wang Jianlin, described by Bloomberg Businessweek as the second-richest man in Asia.

The New York Times says relatives of powerful government officials hold or have held significant stakes in the Wanda Group, which is becoming a player in Hollywood. In January, it bought Legendary Entertainment for $3.5 billion, and it unsuccessfully tried to buy a piece of Paramount Pictures earlier this year. In 2012, it bought AMC Theaters for $2.6 billion.

Wanda’s aggressive moves mirror recent Chinese efforts in acquiring U.S. companies, not in the entertainment industry.

A Bloomberg Businessweek piece last Friday wonders whether China is heading down the same road to stagnation taken by Japan, another Asian nation that had a meteoric rise to economic superpower status and went on a buying binge in America. In the 1980s, Japan was on the verge of passing the U.S. as the world’s most powerful economy. That threat ended in the 1990s as Japan’s bubble burst, and it has limped along ever since.

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The analysis by Beijing-based journalist Michael Schuman says, “China could be hurtling down a similar path. The methods Beijing employed to generate rapid growth—directing finance, nurturing targeted industries, and promoting exports—are replicas of Japan’s.”

What does that have to do with Dick Clark and New Year’s Eve?

Nothing directly, but in 1989 when Japan’s economic success was at its height and scaring the pants off America, Mitsubishi Estate Co. spent $846 million for 51 percent of Rockefeller Center, just blocks from Times Square. The New York Times called that purchase “the latest instance of the Japanese buying a vital piece of the American landscape, from Hollywood to Wall Street. In September, the Sony Corporation bought Columbia Pictures for $3.4 billion.”

About five years later, as Japan began retrenching, Mitsubishi walked away from its trophy investment some $2 billion poorer.

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And what about Columbia Pictures?

As Nancy Griffin and co-author Kim Masters wrote in the 1996 book Hit & Run: How Jon Peters and Peter Guber Took Sony for a Ride in Hollywood, Sony lost $3.2 billion by installing Jon Peters and Peter Guber as co-chairs of the renamed Sony Pictures. After buckets of red ink, they both were out by 1994.

Guber, now a co-owner of the Golden State Warriors, the Dodgers and a Major League Soccer team, is also chair of Dick Clark Productions.