Amblin and Alibaba team up for Chinese distribution

Alibaba acquired a minority stake in Amblin, and took a seat on its board

Financial trends and news by Steven Loeb
October 10, 2016
Short URL: http://vator.tv/n/478a

I'm fascinated by the relationship between Hollywood and China, and how each side relies on the other for to advance their film businesses. American studios have started to cater products to Chinese audiences, and Chinese production companies will often put Hollywood stars in their movies to cater to a more global audience.

Now Hollywood's biggest director and China's biggest tech company are joining forces, as Amblin Partners, an American film and television production company founded by director and producer Steven Spielberg, has partnered with Alibaba Pictures Group, the entertainment company partially owned by Alibaba Group, it was announced on Sunday. 

Together, they will co-produce and finance films for global and Chinese audiences, as well as collaborate on the marketing, distribution and merchandising of Amblin Partners films in China.

The deal also involves Alibaba Pictures acquiring a minority equity stake in Amblin Partners, with an Alibaba Pictures representative joining the board of directors at Amblin Partners. How much of Amblin is now owned by Alibaba Pictures was not disclosed, nor how much the company paid in the acquisition.

We are proud and excited that such a valued company as Alibaba Pictures is joining with our other highly-respected partners, Reliance Entertainment, Participant Media and Entertainment One, in building our growth and strengthening our company even further," Spielberg said in a statement.

"Our vision is to inspire and entertain audiences through creativity and imagination both here and around the world. We would also like to thank Jack Ma for his friendship and support.”

In an interview, Alibaba Pictures President Zhang Wei spoke about how Alibaba Group can help Amblin with with distributing its content in China.

"Alibaba owns the video streaming site Youku Tudou and runs an OTT (over the top) subscription content business called Tmall Box Office. We feel now we are more complete in the digital distribution of content thanks to Alibaba Group’s ecosystem," she said.

"The China market is different from the U.S. market, we don’t really have the DVD market. We’ve migrated directly from theatrical to digital distribution. Digital distribution in the past was mostly an advertising-based model, but now we are seeing growth in the subscription model and the transactional (pay-per-view) model."

The partnership also includes digital distribution of content in China, not just theatrical releases, and Amblin can also "leverage the consumer data and insights from the Alibaba Group ecosystem which will help us better create, market and distribute content."

The first project for the two companies it to market and distribute Spielberg's latest film The BFG, which was released in America over the summer, and will help distribute its future releases, which will include comedy film A Dog's Purpose, science fiction adventure film Ready Player One, which will is directed by Spielberg, and war drama Thank You for Your Service.

Alibaba Pictues was formerly known as ChinaVision Media Group, which Alibaba  bought a controlling stake in for $804 million in March of 2014. 

This type of deal between an American studio and a Chinese business is not unprecidented. Sony Pictures and Wanda Group announced a similar partnership last month. Wanda took a minority stake in some of Sony's tentpole films. The deal also have Sony access to Wanda’s marketing and exhibition in China.

(Image source: youtube.com)