Caixin
Aug 17, 2012 04:05 PM

A Media Boss' Balancing Act

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(Beijing) – Li Ruigang is well-known in China's media industry for his 10-year tenure as president of the Shanghai Media Group (SMG) and his pioneering spirit.

He is also remembered for resigning from a high-ranking Communist Party post to return to his chosen field.

On August 7, Li appeared at the signing ceremony in Shanghai for a Sino-U.S. joint venture animation studio called Oriental Dreamworks. Establishing the studio was one of his first big moves since quitting his party post and returning to the industry in February.      

With an investment of 20 billion yuan, Oriental Dreamworks is owned by three Chinese companies and DreamWorks Animation, the American firm known making the hit films Shrek and Kung Fu Panda.

Oriental Dreamworks is expected to make original Chinese animated films and the next installment in the Kung Fu Panda series. This is important because many Chinese people are often frustrated by the fact Hollywood has been more successful than the country's own studios at making hit movies, even when Chinese themes are used.

Tian Ming, a former classmate of Li's and the CEO of Star China Media, a media and entertainment joint venture involving the U.S. firm News Corp., says the animation industry should first join the global market and then present stories about Chinese culture to the world. "It's Li's ambition," he said.

But Li has higher aims. "His goal is to make the voice of China heard worldwide," said Qin Su, the chief editor of a newspaper in the SMG empire and a man who has worked with Li for ten years.

The SMG Years

From 2002 and 2011, Li was in charge of SMG, which was involved with TV stations, radio, newspapers, magazines and Internet ventures. During his tenure, the company's revenue rose six-fold.

Li became president of SMG at age 33, making him the youngest media leader in the county. One year later, he led two changes: shifting to concentrate on market-oriented production, and changing from a Shanghai-focused broadcaster to a national and international media giant.

Li used the two principles to lead SMG over the next decade.

In 2009, SMG underwent major restructuring guided by the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television (SARFT), China's media watchdog. Afterward, it became the country's second-largest media firm behind state-run CCTV.

The new SMG covers such fields as business operations and investment for films, comics and animation, and sports.

The moves created some problems. An employee at SMG who refused to be named said the frequent changes caused resources to be wasted, and some affiliated companies missed opportunities to list.

Li also entered capital markets in 2009. He set up China Media Capital, with a 5 billion yuan fund to invest in other media companies, including Oriental Dreamworks.

"In order to set up China Media Capital, he made great efforts and made many business trips to Beijing," Tian said.

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