China's Alibaba Pictures, Hengdian Studios to Form Film, TV Joint Venture

Jack Ma Alibaba - H 2014
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Jack Ma Alibaba - H 2014

The deal brings together the world's biggest tech firm and biggest studio facility

Alibaba Pictures, the movie unit of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba, has signed a deal to set up a film and TV company with the world's biggest studio facility, Hengdian World Studios, as part of a new focus on high-tech blockbusters.

"We believe our collaboration will make us more competitive and help raise our game in terms of content innovation, investment, production and distribution," Alibaba Pictures chief Zhang Qiang, formerly second-in-command at China Film Group, said Tuesday during a ceremony to launch the pact.

Zhang said Alibaba would focus on high-tech blockbuster movies in the future and told local media that geographically, Hengdian was very close to Alibaba's headquarters in Hangzhou, which also prompted the cooperation.

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The partners plan to invest, manage, produce and distribute film and TV projects on an integrated e-commerce and entertainment platform.

Alibaba's record-breaking stock listing on Sept. 19 gave the company a market value of roughly $230 billion. Alibaba Pictures was formed in June with the company's purchase of 60 percent of ChinaVision Media Group in Hong Kong for $804 million.

Alibaba Pictures plans to invest in 8-10 films every year, three to five TV dramas and the same number of web-only dramas. The group's board includes action star Jet Li, who is close to Jack Ma, the former English teacher who founded Alibaba in 1999.

It has lined up a slate of films with In the Mood for Love director Wong Kar-wai and also has an agreement with Taiwanese director Giddens Ko.

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Alibaba Pictures discovered accounting irregularities at the film unit in August, and share trading was suspended. One of Alibaba’s biggest investors is Japan’s SoftBank.

Hengdian Studios was founded in 1996 by farmer-turned-studio boss Xu Wenrong and is a five-hour drive from Shanghai. It is spread over 10 square miles, around twice the size of Beverly Hills, and consists of 13 shooting bases. More than 1,200 movies and TV shows have been shot there, including Zhang Yimou’s Hero and Ang Lee's Oscar-winning Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon.