Grab your popcorn: Alibaba and WeChat go head-to-head and tit-for-tat over movie tickets



Somewhere in China, someone is about to purchase a movie ticket on his or her smartphone. And that ticket purchase could tip the power balance between two of the country’s biggest companies.

Last week during a televised awards ceremony (China’s popular, annual “Academy Awards for businessmen”) Wanda Group chairman Wang Jianlin, the don of China’s booming movie theater industry, appeared onstage with Alibaba’s Jack Ma. In spirit with the show’s theatrics, Wang announced that the two high-profile figures would collaborate in the near future, but didn’t give further specifics.

Yesterday, at least one form of the collaboration was revealed. Alipay, Alibaba’s online payments branch, told Chinese news outlet NBD that it would collaborate with Wanda to let users purchase movie tickets through its Alipay Wallet mobile app.

According to the report, Wanda Group will have its own public account in the app, through which users can choose a movie and screening time at a local theater, purchase tickets, and claim a seat. Once at the movie theater, users need not wait in line to print a ticket – instead, they can hand their phone to an theater attendant, who then swipes the phone using a machine by the gate. The ticket is then activated using sound wave technology (a simple alternative to filly things like Bluetooth or NFC).

Currently the feature is available in Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou and Shenzhen. Alipay representatives state that it will soon roll out to other cities, and that it is in talks with other movie theater chains to implement the feature.

WeChat gets into the movies too

The move is significant not necessarily because of the technology, but because of its timing – WeChat, the country’s top messaging app, introduced a nearly identical feature days ago, albeit with much less fanfare.

According to Tencent Tech, WeChat automatically detects the location of the user, who can then select a movie, time and seat from a list of cooperating movie theaters. After successfully purchasing the ticket through WeChat’s payment function, users will receive a password and QR code. Once they arrive at the movie theater, they can manually enter the password or wave the QR code at a ticket-vending machine which then prints out a paper ticket.

This WeChat feature is also already in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and Shenzhen, and Tencent representatives state that they hope to expand it to Tianjin, Chongqing, and up to 20 other cities by year’s end. The company has inked cooperation deals with a large number of cinema chains who will potentially provide discounts to consumers.

Sitting on the edge of one’s seat

The past few months have seen Alibaba and Jack Ma make several very public attempts at ruffling WeChat’s feathers. Not long after Ma announced he would quit using WeChat to [promote Alibaba’s Laiwang messenger app],( the companies have fought each other tit-for-tat: Alibaba removed WeChat integration from its e-commerce apps, and Tencent removed Alipay Wallet from its MyApp app store.

This particular instance of one-upmanship doesn’t contain the shock and spectacle of some of the previous ones in China’s scrappy tech industry. Jack Ma could have announced the specifics of the collaboration at the widely-broadcast awards ceremony. But that might have proven a bit tasteless – after all, Wanda is included on WeChat’s roster of participating movie theater chains.

However, those searching for drama might look to the article in NBD, which appears to have been obtained as an exclusive. It mentions several times how Alipay’s sound wave technology is “more advanced” than similar payment options, and the article’s headline refers to the deal as “the first step” in Alibaba’s collaboration with Wanda.

It’s not clear if the move will help Alipay gain an edge over WeChat as the latter app slowly but steadily inches towards e-commerce. NBD’s report states that Alipay Wallet has 100 million registered users, and about 20 percent of its sales on Singles Day (China’s Cyber Monday equivalent) were completed on mobile devices. It’s also been fleshing out its mobile ecosystem by touting Laiwang and adding voice-search to its Taobao mobile app.

(Editing by Steven Millward)

(Image via Flickr user wahlander)

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