The Netflix of China? Alibaba buys US$382 million stake in film and TV production company

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 05 March, 2015, 11:11am
UPDATED : Friday, 19 June, 2015, 1:26pm

Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba Group is continuing its expansion into entertainment by buying a US$382 million stake in production company Beijing Enlight Media. 

The Chinese film and TV maker said in a filing on the Shenzhen Stock Exchange that it had sold 2.4 billion yuan of shares to an Alibaba Group subsidiary this week, or around 8.8 per cent of the company. 

In the past year, Alibaba has bought a majority stake in ChinaVision, since renamed Alibaba Pictures Group, a 16.5 per cent stake in online video giant Youku Tudou, and an 8 per cent stake in another Chinese production company, Huayi Brothers. 

Alibaba seems to be positioning itself to become China's answer to Netflix, the hugely successful US streaming video service. According to iResearch, China's online video market is expected to more than double to 90 billion yuan by 2018, from around 36 billion yuan this year. 

Alibaba is attempting to expand and explore new profit streams beyond its core e-commerce business. On Tuesday, shares of Alibaba were down more than 2.5 per cent at US$82, a record low since the company launched the world's largest IPO in the US late last year. The firm has also recently come into regulatory trouble in both Mainland China and Taiwan.

Enlight Media's productions have proven a hit with Chinese audiences. It was the lead producer and distributor of 2012 smash hit Lost in Thailand, which topped the Chinese box office that year and spurred a boom in tourism to Thailand

“Beijing Enlight Media has had a long track record of producing hit TV shows,” You Na, an analyst at ICBC International Research told Bloomberg. “Alibaba most likely will consolidate the previous video and content businesses it has already bought to expand its market share.”

Chinese companies aren't the only ones interested in the country's blossoming online video market, Netflix said this week it was planning to expand to China. 

The firm, known for its US political thriller 'House of Cards', also plans to look at exporting content produced in China to the rest of the world, Netflix's chief content officer Ted Sarandos told reporters at a talk in Shanghai on Monday.

Global firms are eyeing a slice of China's fast-growing entertainment market, but have often faced a rocky reception. Google, YouTube, Facebook and Twitter have all been blocked in the country.

"It's unlikely that we would definitely pursue [a local partner model] as a strategy ... These ventures become very complex and very difficult to manage, and ultimately difficult to be successful," said Sarandos.

Without a local partner, Netflix would need to obtain multiple operating licenses on its own, something the firm has said previously may be a potential hold-up. The firm would need around eight different licenses to launch in China, Sarandos said, adding that business in the country was "subject to a censorship and regulatory environment that we haven't had to deal with."

The firm already has some experience dealing with the whims of China's censors. The release of the third season of 'House of Cards' has been delayed for at least six months, disappointing Chinese fans and leading to a boom in online piracy of the show

Additional reporting by Reuters


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