BURBANK, Calif., July 30 -- Warner Bros. announced Tuesday it has signed a distribution deal to release its home video releases in China, becoming the first major video company to be represented in that country. The deal with Shenzen Advanced Science Enterprise Group also covers videos from the MGM studio because Warner owns the rights through 2003. The announcement comes six weeks after China and the United States narrowly averted a multi-billion dollar trade war over China's failure to curb rampant copyright piracy. In the June 17 pact, China agreed to take serious steps to crack down on pirate factories and on exports of illegal copies. A spokeswoman for Warner Bros., the movie and music arm of Time Warner Inc., said the timetable for the first releases and which titles will clear Chinese government censors are still subject to negotiation. Terms of the licensing agreement with Shenzhen, one of China's largest manufacturers and distributors of video CD and laser disc hardware and software. Besides home videos, the deal also calls for Mandarin-dubbed motion pictures and animated product will be available on video CD and LD formats. 'We are extremely pleased about bringing our titles to the People's Republic of China,' said Warner Home Video President Warren Lieberfarb. 'We are confident that through the professional marketing and distribution efforts of SAST, our movies will be as successful in China as they are around the world.' Some of the top Warner releases in recent years include 'Twister,' the three 'Batman' movies, 'The Fugitive,' 'Maverick' and the two 'Ace Ventura' movies.
MGM, which is being sold to former owner Kirk Kerkorian and a management group, has turned around from several years of dismal performance with 'The Birdcage,' 'Goldeneye' and 'Get Shorty.' 'We are delighted to be a part of this groundbreaking event,' said Richard Cohen, president of MGM/UA Home Entertainment. 'We expect that China will soon be one of the largest markets for our films.' Last month's U.S.-China agreement followed talks between Acting U.S. Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky and Chinese President Jiang Zemin and defused a trade war that would have seen the U.S. slap $2 billion in punitive tariffs on Chinese exports. 'I applaud Time Warner and MGM/UA's announcement today to license titles to SAST in Guangdong,' Barshefsky said. 'This announcement demonstrates further concrete results of our efforts to fight piracy of intellectual property and to increase market access for U.S. software and audiovisual companies.' Warner noted that China has more than 250 million households, with 60 percent of those owning a television. Earlier this year, the work week was reduced from six to five days. Warner Home Video currently operates in 52 countries, more than any other studio, and posted record revenues of $1.6 billion in 1995.