From Jurassic Park to Despicable Me, Baidu-backed iQiyi feeds China’s growing appetite for online video content with new NBCUniversal deal

Subsidiary of nation’s top search engine gets access to ‘hundreds’ of Universal’s existing and upcoming movie titles

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 22 October, 2015, 5:59pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 22 October, 2015, 9:27pm

One of China’s largest video-streaming companies iQiyi signed a content agreement with NBCUniversal on Thursday to cater to growing domestic demand for online video at a time when foreign TV shows like Downton Abbey and Sherlock are proving runaway successes in the country.

This enlarges on a pre-existing content deal between the two parties and gives iQiyi, a subsidiary of China’s top search engine Baidu, access to more popular American film franchises like the Jurassic Park and Fast and Furious movies.

Under the terms of the agreement, the entertainment portal will expand its digital rights to include Universal Picture’s existing titles, as well as all of the US studio’s upcoming titles to be released in China over the next few years, it said.

The deal involves “hundreds of titles,” according to a spokesperson for iQiyi, which said in June its paid subscriber base in China had passed 5 million.

“Nearly all of the most famous titles are in this library,” the person added, pointing to films like The Bourne Identity, about a super spy who loses his memory, and the computer-animated Despicable Me series.

iQiyi signed a separate content deal with another Hollywood studio, Lionsgate, earlier this month and secured streaming rights for numerous titles including the highly anticipated Hunger Games finale.

It recently said it plans to spend half of its total budget for next year to produce and buy more than 40 domestic shows, including variety programmes and some TV shows.

iQiyi’s parent Baidu is known to have spent about 1.9 billion yuan (US$300 million) on content in 2014, more than double its outlay the previous year.

Baidi said in its annual report for 2014 that video content for iQiyi accounted for much of the increase.

As China’s online streaming services gradually fall under the control of domestic internet conglomerates, the fight for exclusive content is heating up.

Many companies are now buying and making their own shows in China while also forming alliances with US studios.

Tencent, Chinese social and gaming giant, has deals with several major production houses. It teamed up with Time Warner’s HBO last year to distribute Game of Thrones and True Detective.

The company has also partnered with Walt Disney and 20th Century Fox to put all six Star Wars movies online for subscribers to its Tencent video service, which is a separate entity and rival to iQiyi.

Youku Tudou, another major player in China’s video-streaming industry, inked a deal with Paramount last month to bring the Transformers and Mission: Impossible movie franchises to its collection.

The company is backed by Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba, which proposed a complete buyout last week for US$ 3.6 billion.