Alibaba Pictures raises $260M for its online movie ticket platform

Alibaba Pictures, the film and television subsidiary of Alibaba Group, has raised a 1.7 billion RMB (about $260 million) Series A for its online ticketing platform, Taobao Movie. According to a filing made with the Hong Kong stock exchange, the investment gives Taobao Movie a post-money valuation of 13.7 billion RMB (about $2.1 billion).

The round was led by CDH Investments, Ant Financial Services Group (an Alibaba Group affiliate), and Other investors listed in the disclosure include several Chinese entertainment companies that can serve as strategic partners for Taobao Movie, like Hehe Pictures, BONA Film, and Huace Media.

Taobao Movie was launched in 2014 by Alibaba Group and acquired the next year by Alibaba Pictures Group. According to a press announcement from Alibaba Pictures, Taobao Movie currently lets customers book tickets for more than 5,000 movie theaters in China, which it claims covers 95 percent of the country’s total box office.

Despite being widely available, Taobao Movie is up against heavy competition. According to analysis from Chinese market research firm BigData-Research, group deals site Meituan and Dianping (the two merged in October) held more than half of the online movie ticketing market as of the third quarter of 2015, with the rest divided among other, much smaller players like Taobao Movies, Baidu-backed Nuomi, WePiao (another Tencent investment), and Gewala. Meituan is a portfolio company of Alibaba Group rival Tencent, which announced a massive $3.3 billion investment in the company earlier this year.

(Alibaba was also a Meituan investor before selling off its stake in order to focus on its own businesses).

According to research from Tencent and Meituan, more movie ticket sales were made online than offline for the first time last year. The competition among online platforms has benefited Chinese moviegoers by not only making it easier to buy tickets, but also driving prices down.

Taobao Movie’s Series A is the latest example of how Alibaba Group is busy shoring up its O2O business (the e-commerce company invested $1.25 billion into restaurant delivery service just last month). An acronym that stands for “online-to-offline,” O2O is a fancy way of describing strategies that get more online shoppers into brick-and-mortar businesses and vice versa. Aside from having the obvious advantage of reducing Alibaba Group’s reliance on its main e-commerce platforms, O2O also allows it to build a user base for some of its other core services (like digital payment platform Alipay) and collect valuable data about shopping habits across a range of retail verticals.

In its disclosure, Alibaba Pictures Group said that Taobao Movie’s Series A “will be used to sustain its operations and further strengthen its market position in a competitive and fast developing business segment.”