Jenny Chan 陳詠欣
Jun 15, 2015

Will Tmall Box Office 'sabotage' Netflix's China launch?

SHANGHAI - What a difference three months makes. In March, Netflix's chief content officer Ted Sarandos told reporters in Shanghai that the US video-streaming service was pursuing a launch in China. Yesterday, Alibaba threw a spanner in the works.

Alibaba's Patrick Liu (刘春宁)
Alibaba's Patrick Liu (刘春宁)

Patrick Liu, president of Alibaba Group's digital entertainment unit spoke about the impending Tmall Box Office (TBO, or 天猫票房 in Chinese) yesterday after his presentation at the Shanghai Film Festival forum.

Ironically, Liu himself has taken inspiration directly from Netflix, according to Reuters. "Our mission, the mission of all of Alibaba, is to redefine home entertainment," said Liu. "Our goal is to become like HBO...to become like Netflix in the United States."

The TBO service, a mostly paid video-streaming service over the Tmall set top box, will be launched in about two months—way ahead of the anticipated Netflix launch. Netflix has not even completed negotiations with Chinese partners in trying to get internet-TV licences granted, much less prepared for actual market entry. One analyst on CNBC went as far as to say the Netflix entry is five years away from happening.

Unlike most domestic competitors (QQ Video, iQiyi, Sohu, Youku, Tudou) 90 per cent of TBO's video content will be "premium", i.e. payable, either through a monthly subscription or on a pay-per-view basis. Alibaba will purchase content from other countries, but will also produce original content independently.

In a written statement this morning, an Alibaba Group spokeswoman confirmed the launch and added that "content is an integral part of Alibaba Group's ecosystem and we aim to provide our users with rich and unique content on-demand and on a variety of devices."

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