Hacked E-mails Reveal Alibaba's Ambition for Box Office Success

December 20, 2014
Editor: Frank Zhao

Alibaba Group Holding Ltd showed interest in partnering with Sony Corp on movie franchises including Ghostbusters when billionaire Jack Ma met with Hollywood executives in October, e-mails revealed by hackers show.

Asia's largest Internet company also considered investing in Pixels, a 3-D computer-animated comedy starring Adam Sandler, and plans to produce around 10 movies a year, according to messages to Michael Lynton, chief executive officer of Sony Pictures Entertainment Inc.

Sony was the only studio where Ma met executives in person during Alibaba's whirlwind tour of Hollywood, with actor Jet Li and others in his team of advisers talking to production houses to learn about co-investment in movies, the e-mails show.

Alibaba is hunting for films and TV shows to compete against Tencent Holdings Ltd in China's online video market, which could be worth 40 billion yuan ($6.4 billion) by 2017, according to iResearch estimates.

Alibaba also expressed interested in investing in a movie about Spider-Man villains known as the Sinister Six; Dragon Raja, a series of fantasy novels popular among young Chinese; and co-producing a film about One Piece, the best-selling Manga comic series.

"Alibaba believes that they can enhance performance through marketing, crowd funding, products on Taobao and the Alibaba ticketing platform," Dede Nickerson, a Sony film executive in China, said in an October 28 e-mail to executives including Lynton.

Sony showed keen interest to work with Alibaba on Dragon Raja instead of One Piece, according to the e-mails. The film company was also open to Alibaba investing in Pixels, and China Film Group Corp was in talks about financing the picture as well, the e-mails showed.

Alibaba prefers to invest in specific films rather than in studios, a person familiar with the matter said in November, asking not to be identified. The Hangzhou-based company wants to become a more significant distributor of content by using customer shopping and viewing data to forecast what productions will become hits, the person said.

"Securing licensing agreements to distribute content across the Alibaba ecosystem remains an important part of our long-term business strategy," Bob Christie, a spokesman for Alibaba said in an e-mailed statement.

Tokyo-based Sony Corp declined to comment on Alibaba's interest in movie investments, according to an e-mailed statement. Bob Lawson, a spokesman for Sony from Rubenstein Communications, declined to comment.

"This could be a great partner for us on many levels," Nickerson said in a separate October 28 e-mail to Lynton.

Alibaba, which completed the largest initial public offering ever in September, distributes movies and TV shows through its set-top boxes.

It also established a platform called Yulebao for individuals to invest in movies in March. People can invest as little as 100 yuan through the platform and receive an annualized return rate of about 7 percent, the company said in an e-mail at the time.

The investment interest among users could help Alibaba gauge box office sales and forecast which movies could do well.

Alibaba also is working with local cable providers to distribute content. The e-commerce giant has been in talks to work with Beijing Gehua CATV Network Co, the e-mails show.

(Source: China Daily)

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