NBCUniversal Ramps Up Film Exposure In China With Youku Premium Deal For 100 Films

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NBCUniversal continues to ramp up international streaming deals as a way of getting its content in a non-pirated (read: revenue-generating) format out to the masses. Today, the media company is making a key move into China in a multi-year licensing deal with Youku, the country’s biggest online video player with 300 million monthly viewers, to provide a rolling selection of 100 feature films as part of Youku’s premium paid content service.

The deal is also a sign of how Youku is expanding its catalog with more non-Chinese content: it will see blockbusters like Schindler’s List, Apollo 13, as well as the Jurassic Park and The Mummy series offered as video-on-demand films become offerings on Youku Premium; along with more edgy films like Being John Malkovich, Trainspotting and The Big Lebowski; as well as future releases. Youku, when merged with its rival Tudou, will control some 49 percent of the online video market in China, with the next-nearest rival, Xunlei, at only 11 percent.

In the case of new releases, it looks like the deal will not be jumping on any cinematic windows: upcoming films like Battleship and Snow White & The Huntsman will only appear “after their China theatrical releases,” the company says.

The move is an expansion of Youku’s own premium content offerings, to complement the lower-budget user-generated content and other material that forms the mainstay of its site. Other licensing deals that have been signed for Youku Premium include partnerships with Disney, Paramount, Dreamworks, Warner Bros and 20th Century Fox.

“Youku has been steadily broadening and deepening our partnerships with Chinese and international studios,” said Huilong Zhu, Youku’s vice president of movie operations and corporate development, said in a statement. “Our new agreement with NBCUniversal is one more step forward towards our goal of offering the highest quality content.”

While this may not be a major cash spinner for NBC in the early days, it’s an important move for the broadcaster to continue to provide ways to consume its content that are not illegal: some believe that one of the key causes of content piracy has been the inability to get the content through legal means.

The Motion Picture Association of America recently told Variety that currently in China, box office sales account for 90 percent of all film revenues in the country compared to just 30 percent in the U.S. The MPAA takes this as a sign of how little of that film content is legitimately monetized when it is distributed beyond the silver screen.

For now, it looks like this deal will only cover feature-length films, although NBCUniversal’s International Television Distribution division, which brokered the deal, also controls some 75,000 TV episodes in addition to 4,000 films — so depending on how the films get consumed, we may see more content coming to the Youku platform in the future.