Tencent bringing Star Wars to China as Youku, Alibaba target US film and TV franchises for booming home streaming market
Streaming video users in China will soon be spoiled for choice for US film and television shows, with three of the country's major internet companies making strides into the entertainment business.
Tencent, China's social and gaming giant, announced this week that it had signed deals with Disney and 20th Century Fox to be the exclusive Chinese distributor for the upcoming Star Wars sequels.
On Tuesday, Youku Tudou, one of China's largest video streaming sites, announced a partnership with Paramount Pictures to bring more than a hundred top titles to its premium subscribers, including Transformers, Shrek, and Star Trek.
"The consumer-driven demand for premium online services in China is growing rapidly," said Victor Koo, chairman and chief executive of Youku Tudou.
"With top-branded content such as Paramount Picture's array of films, our commitment to enhancing our subscription services to create a premium experience and drive consumer-based revenue continues in earnest."
The move comes after Alibaba, China's market-leading e-commerce player, last week launched its Netflix-style Tmall Box Office, or TBO, streaming service for set-top boxes and smart TVs.
“Our mission, the mission of all of Alibaba, is to redefine home entertainment,” Patrick Liu, Alibaba head of digital entertainment said in June.
“Our goal is to become like HBO in the United States, to become like Netflix in the United States.”
All three companies charge monthly fees of between US$3 and US$8 for access to their premium content, including overseas TV shows and films.
For global entertainment companies, the partnerships offer a potential way to create legitimate distribution channels in a market plagued by piracy, and potentially avoid China's official limit on non-locally produced films, currently set at around 34 titles.
Film production houses have long got around the limit by entering into co-production deals with Chinese partners, such as that signed between Paramount and Alibaba on the latest Mission Impossible film.
Through its entertainment subsidiary, Alibaba Pictures, the e-commerce firm handled online ticketing, promotion and merchandising for Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation in China.
Alibaba Pictures, previously known as ChinaVision Media Group, raised nearly 5 billion yuan (US$805.5 million) in 2014 from a share offer that put Alibaba in control of the company.
In June, it agreed to sell 4.20 billion new shares at HK$2.9 (US$0.37) each to independent investors to boost its share capital.