Paramount Chief Jim Gianopulos Hints at ‘Replacement Plan’ for China Finance Deal

The studio boss also talked premium video on demand at an investor conference Friday

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Paramount Chairman and CEO Jim Gianopulos wasn’t on the job when the studio inked its $1 billion slate deal with China’s Huahua Media and Shanghai Film Group, but while maintaining that there is a “signed deal” and that the company has received assurances from its overseas partners that things are in order, he acknowledged the studio has considered alternatives if the arrangement falls through.

At the Bank of America Merrill Lynch conference in Beverly Hills on Friday, Gianopulos cited China’s regulatory crackdown, which has specifically targeted entertainment deals, as being a primary culprit in the studio not having “received the money we are entitled to under the deal.”

And even though Huahua and SFG have told Paramount the deal is still alive, Gianopulos said the studio has begun thinking of a plan B — which might have to be implemented in the not-too-distant future.

“Very shortly, I think we’ll know, and enter into a replacement plan,” he said.

Gianopulos referred to navigating those regulatory issues as an “opaque, and at best, translucent, process.” Furthermore, Huahua’s acquisition in July by a fellow Chinese company, Oriental Times Media, has added another layer of potential complications to the deal.

The new Paramount boss also weighed in on the studio’s other major concern: battling back against this summer’s box office slump, which was capped off by the worst Labor Day since the Clinton administration.

Franchise fatigue was a big part of it, and Paramount was involved in that — its “Transformers: The Last Knight” significantly underperformed compared to previous installments in that series. Gianopulos said the next film in that canon, “Bumblebee,” will be a different take, comparing it to what his previous employer, Fox, did with “Deadpool” to broaden the “X-Men” franchise.

“It’s much more driven by the relationship between a teen and one of these robots,” he said. “[We can] exploit that opportunity of owning that great franchise but moving away from what has now become a fully matured franchise in ‘Transformers.’”

Gianopulos also endorsed the topic du jour in the movie industry (particularly relevant given the box office slump): premium video on demand. He thinks home consumers getting to see new releases sooner — and for a higher price — could “create an enhanced opportunity for consumers and an enhanced revenue stream for consumers.”

“I don’t want to put a date on it, but it has momentum and I think it’s inevitable,” Gianopulos said. “Once this thing picks up momentum you have to be thinking of it in terms of months, not years.”