Steven Spielberg makes headway into China's film industry in new deal with Alibaba

China will have easier access to Hollywood films with the announcement in Beijing this past weekend that Steven Spielberg's Amblin Partner is teaming up with Alibaba Pictures, the film and television arm of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba Group, in a first-ever arrangement for both companies.

Alibaba pictures

The partnership according to an article in Geekwire today opens a gateway for Amblin into the coveted but highly-regulated Chinese film market. Alibaba Pictures will be Amblin’s marketing and distribution partner there, helping get Amblin’s titles like The BFG and The Girl on the Train into Chinese theaters. The films will also be distributed digitally through its streaming service YoukuTudou.

Alibaba Group is the largest shareholder of Alibaba Pictures’ stock, which is traded publicly on the Hong Kong stock exchange. Amblin and Alibaba will leverage customer data from Alibaba’s more than 434m users to market film projects in China, according to the article.

“We may have cultural differences but the human values are the same,” said Jack Ma, Alibaba founder and executive chairman, according to a recap.

“When I see movies, I see the human part of it. That’s why I love Steven’s movies. It’s not just high tech. We want to see the human part of it," added Alibaba Pictures President Zhang Wei.

As part of the deal, Alibaba Pictures will get a minority stake in Amblin and a seat on its board. Financial terms were not disclosed.

Alibaba Pictures has upped its investments recently and increased its focus on bringing global blockbusters to China. In the past year, Alibaba has invested in blockbuster films such as Star Trek Beyond and Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation.

Alibaba’s entertainment offerings mirror those of one of its chief competitors: Amazon. Like Alibaba, Amazon has its own streaming service, and it also develops original movies and television series through its Amazon Studios division. Alibaba Pictures recently launched a new program called Project A to nurture a new generation of young filmmakers worldwide. Amazon encourages people to submit movie and series scripts and concepts where they can be reviewed publicly and privately, the article notes.

Finding a local partner is starting to look like the best way for foreign film and television companies to gain a foothold in China. Both Disney and Apple were shut down by Chinese regulators earlier this year. Last week, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings said at a New Yorker event the company is focusing on other parts of the world before it makes a run at China.

Alibaba had been looking to team up with a Hollywood studio for some time, and started talking with Amblin earlier this year. Alibaba Pictures President Zhang Wei said in an online Q&A on Alibaba’s news site that many studios just want investors to bring in money, but Alibaba wanted to be a partner in creating and distributing quality films.

“This approach to me was refreshing and different. It was the belief in partnership that really brought us together, the sense that we had similar visions and beliefs rather than just resources the other side needs,” Wei said. This is not just a financial investment. Both companies have a shared vision of powerful storytelling to a global audience and believe this partnership will position us for long-term growth," Zhange Wei said in an online Q&A on Alibaba's news site.

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