Alibaba Pictures to work with sister company Youku Tudou on filmmaking, distribution

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 14 March, 2017, 11:04pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 14 March, 2017, 11:07pm

Alibaba Pictures, the film offshoot of the world’s largest e-commerce company, said it has teamed up with China’s Youku Tudou in financing, production and distribution of films and television programmes.

In a letter to employees, Alibaba Pictures chairman Yu Yongfu said the company will be “given priority” access to copyrights of film and television content owned by Youku Tudou, which was taken over by Alibaba in 2016 for US$3.67 billion, along with two other entertainment ventures under the Alibaba umbrella. Youku Tudou is one of China’s biggest online streaming sites, often likened to China’s answer to YouTube.

The two companies also plan to co-finance titles designed primarily for online distribution, as a growing number of mainland Chinese opt to watch new releases at home rather than commute to cinemas.

The move was taken at a time when Alibaba Pictures, controlled by China’s second richest man Jack Ma Yun steps up efforts to gain a foothold in the country’s competitive movie market, crowded with both established players such as billionaire tycoon Wang Jianlin’s Wanda Cinemas and newcomers like Le Vision Pictures.

In December, as part of a major overhaul, Yu, a former tech entrepreneur, was named chief executive of Ali Pictures. He also oversees other entertainment and media entities owned by Alibaba, including Youku Tudou.

Yu Yongfu to take over as CEO of Alibaba Pictures

The online streaming of films and drama series has flourished in China in recent years, underlined by the astonishing rise of video streaming providers LeTV, Youku Tudou and iQiyi. A number of low-budget drama series which premiered online turned out to become nationwide blockbusters.

Last year the internet romantic comedy series Go Princess Go went viral in China, netting US$1.5 million in profit from 50,000 paid subscribers for LeTV. Its finale drew more than 2.4 billion views, catapulting the lead actor and actress to nationwide stardom.

Many popular online series are adaptations of best-selling Chinese novels which have amassed an enormous fanbase.

“Nowadays what is really gaining prominence in China is movies streamed online,”said Roger Garcia, executive director of the Hong Kong International Film Festival Society.

Ali Pictures, which warned of US$137 million to US$140 million in potential losses for 2016, has been undergoing a revamp since Yu took the helm.

Among the best-known blockbusters it has invested in are Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows.

Alibaba is the owner of the South China Morning Post.