Chinese ecommerce titan Alibaba today signed a deal with Canadian-American production studio Lionsgate (NYSE:LGF) to give Alibaba’s smart TV OS users in China exclusive streaming access to the latter’s content, according to Alibaba’s official English-language blog Alizila.
Users of Tmall’s set-top box in China next month will be able to watch shows and movies like Mad Men, Twilight, and The Hunger Games if they subscribe to the “Lionsgate Entertainment World” channel. A Lionsgate representative told Alizila that some of the studio’s video is already licensed to other video platforms in China, but this paid subscription service will give viewers “behind-the-scenes footage and premium content not available anywhere else in China.”
Alibaba’s first set-top box, the Wasu Rainbow, went on sale in September 2013.
Alibaba has jumped headlong into procuring exclusive content directly from production studios. Last month, it announced it would create a new financial product that allows anyone to invest as little as RMB 100 (US$16) and up to RMB 2,000 (US$320) in a select movie of their choice. Those deposits are bundled into the company’s wealth management and insurance products that pay a fixed interest rate.
The company also took a US$804 million majority stake in Hong Kong-based ChinaVision Media Group, which is responsible for several popular Chinese-language TV shows and movies. The company sunk US$1.22 billion in China’s most popular video portal Youku (NYSE:YOKU) in April. In the same month, it contributed to a US$1.05 billion investment in streaming media partner Wasu.
But the deal with Lionsgate comes at an uncertain time for STB makers. Yesterday, Techweb reported the State Administration of Radio, Film, and Television would try to ban unlicensed content distributors – mainly video portals like Youku, iQiyi, and LeTV – from being pre-installed on set-top boxes. This in turn would promote the handful of state-backed content providers, including CNTV, Hunan TV, and CIBN. The gap between pronouncement and implementation is always a big one in China, however, so set-top box makers and their video partners seem unphased.