Co. to invest $14.6 million in 'Machine Hero'

BEIJING — At a time when the biz is keeping its head below the parapet, Beijing-based video website LeTV.com is working on ambitious expansion plans, mostly based on its enthusiastic embrace of science fiction.

Netco plans to invest 100 million yuan ($14.6 million) to make “Ji qi xia” (Machine Hero), the first movie produced by a domestic video site, and stage one in a series of sci-fi pics the group is planning.

“We are in the driver’s seat on this project, and we are planning to invest in one or two more sci-fi movies next year,” said Liu Hong, director and senior VP of LeTV New Media, in an interview with Daily Variety.

Founded in 2004, the company has 130 employees and is hiring — a rarity in these straitened times. It has also just set up larger offices downtown.

“The recent financial crisis has not impacted on us. In fact, I have to thank it, as more people prefer to stay at home and watch films. They have more time for entertainment that costs only a little money. They will not buy big things such as household appliances, but they can afford to buy a film; it costs much less,” Liu said.

Liu said “Machine Hero,” which will show only on LeTV, should help boost its image as a strategic high-tech company.

The company broke even in 2007 and expects 100% revenue growth in 2008.

Group also provides mobile phone video services and is developing online video and mobile video technologies. Unlike many other video websites in China, LeTV does not rely on foreign venture capital.

“Our company is more like an ordinary company rather than a website. We earn our money before we use it. And we respected and valued copyright at the beginning of our company establishment,” Liu said.

The company owns copyright on 10,000 hours of films and TV series, including “Painted Skin” and “Desire of the Heart,” and has just secured copyright for the second part of John Woo’s epic “Red Cliff.”

LeTV buys the copyright outright, rather than sharing with film companies or TV stations. Customers can opt to watch the skeins or pics with ads for free or without ads (and in high definition) for a fee.

“Right now, we have more than 100,000 paying customers and more than 5 million free customers. The charge for a film only costs between one and five yuan (14¢ and 70¢). Customers can pay by cell phone, which is quite convenient,” said Liu.

In August LeTV announced a $7.7 million round of fund-raising, and it wants to raise more capital ahead of a planned initial public offering.

LeTV hopes to list on the yet-to-bow Growth Enterprise Market of Shenzhen Stock Exchange. Execs will concentrate on growing the business until the stock exchange catches up.

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