Chinese TV producer Linmon Media has filed an application for an initial public offering in Hong Kong. It is the third time that the eight-year-old company has sought a stock market flotation.
The heavily-redacted draft prospectus, sponsored by Morgan Stanley and CICC, does not reveal how much fresh capital the company aims to raise, nor the company’s anticipated valuation. The timetable for the IPO is also not disclosed.
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Linmon previously sought a listing on the mainland China A-share market and had a prior attempt at listing in Hong Kong late last year. Both applications were abandoned.
The company was founded back in 2014 by former SMG head of film Zhou Yuan, and co-founders Su Xiao, Chen Fei and Xu Xiao’ou. Now it claims to be the fourth largest TV producer in China in what is a highly fragmented market, and to hold a market share of just 2.9%.
Its recent shows include “A Love for Separation,” “A Little Reunion,” “A Little Dilemma,” “Nothing but Thirty,” and “Twenty Your Life On” focus on popular contemporary topics such as family life, education, and female empowerment. Licensing these to broadcasters, streamers and third-party distributors make up the majority of its business, though it is also involved in content marketing and film distribution.
Fox Network Group took up the ex-China rights to Linmon’s drama series “To Be a Better Man,” about a U.S.-trained chef who returns to China with the mortal remains of his best friend.
The prospectus shows that Tencent Video has been a significant client and a corporate investor. Tencent led a $15 million funding round in the company’s third year, while Hony Capital and Hunan TV’s Mango V Foundation led a $76 million B funding round.
The prospectus says that Linmon managed to deliver all of its scheduled productions during the COVID-related disruptions of 2020. But it chose to abandon the theatrical run of its feature film “Monster Run” when Chinese cinemas closed, and licensed the film instead to major streamers for RMB135 million ($21 million) of revenue.
Unusually, the company is not able to demonstrate a full array of improving financials. During the three-year track record period in the prospectus the company’s revenues shrank: from RMB1.79 billion ($277 million) in 2019 to RMB1.43 billion ($222 million) in 2020 and RMB1.25 billion ($194 million) in 2021.
After-tax profits in 2019 were RMB80.4 million ($12.5 million), but fell to RMB62.5 million ($9.70 million) in 2020 and held steady at RMB60.9 million in 2021. At least, it was able to point to margins improving at the gross profit level.
As is often the case with IPOs of Chinese companies, the published risk factors make for the most insightful reading. In addition to the expected warnings about piracy, competition and defaults by clients, Linmon is obliged to explain a proportion of the Chinese TV regulatory environment to potential investors.
Examples include: “drama series in the PRC are prohibited from certain content, such as promoting superstition, obscenity, gambling or violence, defamation as well as damaging social morality or cultural traditions.”
Another warning reads: “We may have to incur additional costs and expenses to revise the content of our drama series based on competent authorities’ requests.” “In addition, if any of our drama series fails to obtain a license [from the National Radio and Television Administration], we may have to discard it, even if already completed, resulting in a total investment loss.”
Linmon explains China’s regulations governing star salaries: “The NRTA requires that, among other things, the total payment for all actors of a drama series shall not exceed 40% of the total production costs, and the payment for principal actors shall not exceed 70% of the total payment of all actors.”
And it sheds light on the risks posed by wider Chinese legal system: “The PRC legal system is partly based on government policies and administrative rules that may take effect retrospectively. As a result, we may not be aware of our violations of certain policies or rules in a timely manner.”
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