Jack Ma: Alibaba Is the "Biggest Entertainment Company in the World"

Jack Ma Alibaba - H 2014
AP Images

Jack Ma Alibaba - H 2014

China's richest man talks Hollywood movies, the political situation in Hong Kong and buying American companies

Jack Ma, China’s richest man, said Monday night that Alibaba, the company he founded, “is the biggest entertainment company in the world," because so many people are now looking for entertainment rather than buying anything on the site that started as an e-tailer. 

Ma, who was giving a keynote speech at WSJ.D Live conference in Laguna Beach, also said that he’s in Southern California to learn from Hollywood and to explain to entertainment industry executives that China will be the most important film market in the world because of its massive population's growing middle class.

Ma wasn’t specific about his designs on the movie business but spoke instead of the influence movies such as The Godfather and Forrest Gump (the latter his favorite movie) have had on him, according to Fast Company, which has been live-blogging the event.

Ma's address covered a wide range of topics, including what he sees as the key difference between American and Chinese movies. In American movies, the protagonist never looks like a hero at the start but turns into one by the end; in Chinese movies, “I’ve never seen a hero who didn’t die,” he said.

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Speaking to Dennis Berman of the Wall Street Journal, Ma said that he views movies as an important way to influence young people. Asked by Berman whether Chinese government restrictions on culture made for bad movies, Ma said the Internet was changing that. He even quipped that Hollywood films are good for mental health.

On the issue of his ties to the Chinese government, Ma said his attitude was "to love it but not to marry it," adding that the government should be pleased that Alibaba has created 14 million jobs in China. Regarding the current pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, Ma said he felt that young people in Hong Kong don't feel hope and that "this situation cannot last long."

Ma also touched upon Alibaba's rapid move into financial services in China. He noted that five years ago he said, "If banks don't change, let's change the banks," adding that the Alipay service now has 300 million active users, making it the third largest payment network after Visa and Mastercard. 

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Finally, Ma addressed some of the speculation about potential Alibaba acquisitions, although he artfully dodged any definitive answers. Berman asked whether he would buy eBay, to which Ma replied: "Would you sell it? ... There are so many good things in the world. I want to buy Google, I want to buy Apple, but I can't. Let them be good."

After Berman pressed him on buying Paypal, Ma said: "Buying and selling is like a marriage. You want to marry her; she doesn't want to marry you."