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China’s Alibaba Seeks New Hollywood Finance Role

SHANGHAI — Alibaba, the Chinese e-commerce giant, is seeking a greater role in Hollywood film finance.

The company is looking to Yule Bao (aka “Entertainment Treasure”), an existing financial product that is similar to crowd-funding, to enable it to invest in Hollywood movies.

Yule Bao was launched last year in China and through 13 funding rounds has raised over RMB560 million ($91 million) from members of the public. The proceeds have been used to made investments into some 20 movies and TV shows to date.

“We hope that Yu Le Bao will become an international platform to allow Chinese users to invest in projects they are interested in. We are discussing with a few Hollywood producers to see how users can invest in their projects through the Yule Bao platform,” said Patrick Liu Chunning, head of Alibaba Digital Entertainment.

Currently the regulatory environment in China covers everything the company is doing under Yule Bao. But to take it further would require the legal framework to be updated. Liu spoke about working through informal channels and the legal process to make that a reality.

Alibaba founder Jack Ma was known last year to have held investment talks with Sony Pictures Entertainment and was believed to have spoken to other studios including Lionsgate.

Liu said that Yule Bao’s current China operations have multiple ambitions, which mirror crowd-funding’s marketing and brand-building functions. Aside from building a film production slate, other aspects include a corporate social responsibility approach enabling Alibaba to support and develop particular talent. Another aim is new talent discovery. A fourth ambition is to use Yule Bao as part of the glue that holds together Alibaba’s fast evolving range of entertainment investments and inhouse activities.

Liu said that Yule Bao’s fan investors might be given priority tickets through the Taobao ticketing system or be early adopters of the yet-to-be-launched home entertainment platform T-Mall Box Office.

Liu was in Shanghai this week where Alibaba and Yule Bao held a number of events on the fringes of the Shanghai International Film Festival. On Sunday, Alibaba Digital Entertainment and Yule Bao held a fan event enabling small investors to be in touch with the stars and shows that they had backed.

On Saturday, Alibaba Digital Entertainment presented an award to actress and style icon Fan Bingbing as recognition of the business she had driven to Alibaba’s shopping platforms. Last year some 2.7 million searches were made for Fan Bingbing and fashion through home shopping venue Taobao. That in turn drove RMB500 million ($81.3 million) in business.

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