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Problems Surround Alibaba Pictures As It Reveals $57 Million Loss

HONG KONG — Alibaba Pictures Group, the film investment and distribution arm of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba, has revealed losses of US$57.1 million (HK$443 million).

The figures amount to a painful house cleaning exercise and a demonstration of the many hazards of doing business in the Chinese film industry.

The losses were incurred in the six months to June and reflect impairments to the value of some of the company’s film and TV properties, as well as a restatement of the value of some derivative financial instruments.

Alibaba took control of the Hong Kong-listed company, through a 60% share stake costing US$775 million (HK$6 billion), at the end of June and changed the company’s name from Chinavision to Alibaba Pictures Group. The losses relate to the period before Alibaba’s control, but were only discovered after takeover, in August, prompting an investigation by auditors that only ended recently.

Revenues dropped from US$61.2 million (HK$474 million) in the first half of 2013 to just US$14.6 million (HK$113 million). The write-offs amounted to US$48.9 million (HK$379 million) while trading losses of US$8.36 million (HK$64.8 million) added a further burden.

The company revealed the numerous difficulties encountered in the past year as it tried to muscle its way into the forefront of the business.

Among the $9.68 million (HK$75 million) of film-specific losses, the company revealed a costly “restriction imposed by the PRC authority on the broadcasting of a film in the PRC;” and a “dispute between a film distributor and a film producer on profit sharing of a film in which the group has invested.” This is understood to be a reference to Chinavision’s stake in Stephen Chow’s Feb 2013 $200 million blockbuster “Journey To The West,” which was distributed by Huayi Brothers Media.

Notes to the accounts reveal that part of Alibaba Pictures Group’s array of deals with prominent regional film makers is also coming undone.

As Chinavision, it paid US$8.14 million (RMB50 million) for Stephen Chow to offer it investment positions in five future movies. But it chose not to go ahead with any of them and so forfeited its deposit.

In March this year, it signed a deal with Taiwan-based producer Angie Chai to deliver a slate of films involving writer-director Giddens Ko. However that is treated as a loss in the June accounts.

More happily, in May this year it also paid RMB50 million to Wong Kar-wai as down payments on five movies for Wong or his associates to deliver. Alibaba Pictures says that it expects one of those to go ahead before June 2015 – Wong recently revealed a project involving a monk travelling to India — and has restated that investment as a current asset.

Alibaba Pictures also bought mainland Chinese distribution rights to two Hong Kong movies, actioner “Rise of A Legend” and comedy “Temporary Family.”

Shares in the group began trading again Monday, after months of suspension, and in early trade rose 2% to HK$1.64 apiece.

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