Tom Cruise Promotes Alibaba’s ‘Rogue Nation’ in China

Hollywood superstar Tom Cruise has held press conferences and fan events in Beijing, Chengdu and Shanghai this weekend to promote “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation.” The film opens in Chinese theaters on Tuesday (Sept. 8)

This is the star’s second promotional tour in Asia with the picture. He previously stopped in South Korea in July. But this time is different. Cruise’s tour of China is in support of the first Hollywood movie partly financed by Alibaba Pictures Group, the film investment and production arm of e-commerce giant Alibaba.

The film is presented by Paramount Picture and Skydance Productions, but mainland Chinese distribution of revenue-sharing imported films remains off limits to Hollywood studios. Instead the film is co-distributed by Chinese state-owned entities China Film Group and Huaxia Distribution. APG and China Movie Channel have associate producer status.

APG describes itself as “an official Paramount Pictures’ promotional partner for the movie in China.”

Cruise’s tour follows two months of promo activities by APG. “Alibaba Pictures leveraged Alibaba Group’s ecosystem and massive user base to launch an innovative and user-targeted approach toward movie promotion and merchandising,” it said.

This involved advance ticket sales through Taobao Movie, an app offering online ticketing and seat selection. Taobao is one of Alibaba’s biggest online marketplaces. APG says that pre-sales on Taobao Movie topped RMB 1 million ($156,000), making “Rogue Nation” the top movie of the month. On that tracking it looks set to topple Skydance’s “Terminator Genisys” which is still on release in China and has grossed $112 million in 15 days.

“Alibaba Pictures also cooperated with Mobile Taobao to release online games related to the movie,” APG said Monday.

The Alibaba parent group, which operates online business-to-business marketplaces as well as consumer auction and sales sites, has also been involved, notably in merchandizing. APG reports that Paramount connected with 30 merchants and manufacturers to handle production and sale of authentic merchandize.

APG, bought last year as ChinaVision, a company that has its own stock market listing in Hong Kong and Singapore, has suffered a few corporate stumbles in its first year under Alibaba’s ownership. The launch of “Rogue Nation” is therefore intended as a showcase for the power of vertical and horizontal integration and big data application that the Internet giant can offer the entertainment industry.

For all that financial muscle and corporate connections, Alibaba was still unable to secure a better release date for “Rogue Nation.” Releasing on a Tuesday shortly after a national holiday smacks of regulatory control designed to tamp down the box office performance of Hollywood movies in China.

In several non-attributable conversations, distribution sector executives have suggested that after the runaway success of “Furious 7” in the first half of the year, China’s Film Bureau will stretch the rules as far as possible for the rest of this year to ensure that the market share of Chinese-made films catches that of Hollywood.

“Rogue Nation” will soon have to compete with two other Hollywood blockbusters, appealing to similar demographics. Regulators have set release dates of Sept. 13 for “Minions” and Sept. 15 for “Pixels.”

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