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China’s Youku inks Warner deal

Vid streaming site launches premium platform

China’s biggest online video streaming site, Youku.com, has launched paid content platform Youku Premium after signing a digital distribution deal with Warner’s China joint venture, CAV Warner Home Entertainment.

Under the three-year deal Youku add 400 to 450 WB new releases and catalog titles to its Youku Premium content library.

It’s the latest sign of a gradual move away from piracy in the world’s fastest-growing movie market, which also has 450 million Internet users.

China’s answer to YouTube, which is banned in the country, Youku listed on the NYSE in December.

Youku will stream the movies on demand via Youku Premium on various devices, including cell phones, a hugely popular way of watching movies in China.

The service launched in beta in October. Since then, it has processed more than 224,000 paid transactions for its library of more than 300 movies and 3,880 educational programs.

Earlier this year Youku paired up with Warner Bros. to stream “Inception” to Chinese webizens. Among titles available on Youku are “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1,” “The Lord of the Rings” trilogy and Chinese B.O. topper “Let the Bullets Fly.”

“Over the past year we’ve seen Chinese Internet users become more sophisticated in terms of what they’ll spend money on,” said Dele Liu, Youku’s chief financial officer. “People are increasingly willing to pay for high-quality content, and we take the growth of Youku Premium as a sign that the market is improving for paid services.” He added that the company spent the time when Youku Premium was in beta making sure that it had the technology to power the service.

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