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Jon Feltheimer Sheds Little Light on Lionsgate-Alibaba Deal

HONG KONG — Jon Feltheimer, CEO of Lionsgate, offered plenty of enthusiasm for the China media scene, but offered no clue as to the possible sale of a third of his company to Alibaba.

“We’re going to be cautious, find the right partner,” he said, Tuesday morning at a speech in Hong Kong at the Cable & Satellite Broadcasting Association of Asia annual convention.

China and the Asian territory is an incredible opportunity. We spend a lot of time looking at it, looking for the right partners,” said Feltheimer.

“There are things perhaps that speak to our strengths, not the other studios’ strengths. And we are going to think as much locally as we can.”

The name of Alibaba, the e-commerce giant that last month floated on the New York Stock Exchange, was only mentioned once.

“In the coming months we’ll launch our Lionsgate Entertainment World streaming service with Alibaba, presenting movies, premium TV series exclusive footage, behind the scenes interviews and other special content for the Chinese consumer,” Feltheimer said.

Financial market sources last suggested that Lionsgate is poised to sell upwards of 30% of the company to Alibaba. Well placed media sources have told Variety that talks are still ongoing and are currently focussed chiefly on the cost of the deal.

Feltheimer said that the company is already making progress in China. “We had a great last couple of years. 4 or 5 years ago we made no money distributing our content in China. Last year we probably made more than previous 5 years combined. We released 7 movies in China. ‘Escape Plan’ did better in China than it did in the U.S. So we see a marvellous opportunity to do business,” he said.

Feltheimer’s main message seemed to be one of embracing the changes brought on by digital technology and changing demographics.

“In the next five years, everything we do – the way we produce, package, distribute, market and monetize content — will be different,” he said.

“And to those who worry that digital innovators will compress windows, turn business models on their heads and change our ecosystem… I would say, ‘You don’t need to,’ because new, better and more profitable paradigms are waiting to take their place.

“If you’ve got the right content, a trusted brand, an efficient distribution mechanism and the means to effectively market to the consumer, new channels will be created and they will be successful.

“Our Tribeca Short List channel that we announced last week is a perfect example. Now we won’t get everyone to subscribe to the Tribeca Short List. But we don’t have to, because we want to create a core affinity group of motivated film consumers and keep them satisfied — and, if we do, the channel will be very successful.”

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