China's richest man Wang Jianlin, who operates the world's largest cinema chain, Dalian Wanda, is eyeing a bid for the iconic Odeon, which is set to be auctioned for at least £1bn. The UK brand operates 2,000 screens mostly in the UK and is also a major player in Spain, Italy and Germany.
The purchase of Odeon will bring the UK cinema chain under Jianlin's AMC, an operator of about 5,000 screens in the US that he bought for £1.7bn. Jianlin's conglomerate also recently bought Australian cinema company Hoyts for more than £400m, besides acquiring UK yacht maker Sunseeker for £320m.
Back in 2011, Odeon, owned by Guy Hands' private equity firm Terra Firma, had planned to sell Odeon but his asking price of £1.2bn failed to attract bidders. However, this time around Hands is looking to capitalise on the chain's improving competitive position. Sources told the Telegraph that rival chain Vue's reported £600m bid in August was an absolute non-starter given the stock-market valuation of another rival, Cineworld.
Odeon was founded by Oscar Deutsch in 1928. It was acquired by Terra Firma in 2004 and merged with rival chain UCI. It has turned around heavy losses and in the first half of this year delivered a pre-tax profit of £14.5m.
Wanda Cinemas is the largest cinema operator in Asia and is part of Jianlin's vast conglomerate that includes shopping malls, luxury hotels and theme parks. According to asianranking, Real estate tycoon Wang Jianlin is the richest man in China with a fortune of £27.55bn ($41.9bn), followed closely by Alibaba's Jack Ma with £16.64 ($25.3bn).