Alibaba Group is best known for e-commerce, but it does much more than just run online marketplaces. The Chinese tech giant announced today that it will produce its first movie project through Alibaba Pictures Group, previously called ChinaVision Media Group before Alibaba acquired a controlling stake last year.
Alibaba Picture Group’s first project wil be helmed by influential Hong Kong filmmaker Wong Kar-wai and star his frequent collaborator Tony Leung. The two teamed up for 2000’s “In the Mood for Love,” which is the film Wong is probably best known for to international audiences.
The upcoming movie will be called “Bai Du Ren” (which translates into “the ferryman”) and will be distributed using networks created by Alibaba’s existing online platforms, including shopping sites Taobao and Tmall.com. For example, it can use the sites to advertise the films and work with merchants to create and promote licensed products. In addition, Alibaba’s mobile payments platform, will be pressed into service to facilitate online ticket sales.
In a prepared statement, Alibaba Pictures Group CEO and executive director Zhang Qiang said, “The company will leverage Alibaba Group’s cloud computing and big data technologies to help tap customer demand and create a comprehensive ecosystem for its film and television production and marketing business.”
China is the second-largest film market in the world, and box office receipts grew 36 percent to $4.8 billion in 2014. Unfortunately for Chinese filmmakers, this hasn’t translated into demand for local films, since most audiences prefer to watch Hollywood imports. In 2017, the Chinese government plans to lift its current quota on foreign movies, which means even more competition for domestic studios.
Its size makes the Chinese film market an attractive one to enter, but Alibaba Pictures’ success is still far from certain, even with stars like Wong and Leung.
Alibaba has been eager to tackle the entertainment industry in China. Aside from its majority stake in Chinavision, it also acquired music-streaming service Xiami last year, as well as a 50 percent stake in leading Chinese soccer team Guangzhou Evergrande. As with its movie business, Alibaba’s success in both of these ventures remains to be seen, but it has the advantage of being able to market to the millions of consumers who already use its e-commerce sites.