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China’s Online Ticketing Merger Adds to Rivalry Between Tencent and Alibaba

Chinese social media and games giant Tencent is strengthening its position in cinema ticketing by backing the merger of ticketing services Maoyan and Weying. The move intensifies Tencent’s rivalry with Alibaba, which boasts the popular Tao Piao Piao ticketing service.

Maoyan is backed by online services group Meituan-Dianping, in which Tencent holds a significant stake. Weying operates on Tencent’s WeChat platform and is part-owned by Tencent.

The combined company will use Maoyan as its foundation, and all Maoyan activities will be pooled into the new company, Maoyan Weying. But it will also continue to be integrated with WeChat, China’s most popular online platform, which boasts 963 million registered users worldwide. Maoyan’s activities include movie- and show-ticketing services, film investment and promotion, and other industry services. Similarly, Weying’s movie-ticketing business, show business and other related assets will also go into the combined company.

“The combination of Meituan-Dianping’s mega-services platform, WeChat, and Maoyan Weying will provide better experiences to customers on our platforms and facilitate advancement in China’s online entertainment industry,” Meituan-Dianping said.

Meituan-Dianping, Tencent, Enlight Media and Weying will continue to hold the majority stake in the combined company. It is understood that Enlight holds 51% of the merged company, but that Tencent intends to increase its stake.

Wang Changtian, founder and CEO of Enlight Media, will serve as chairman of the new post-merger company. Lin Ning, CEO of Weying, will serve as the vice chairman, and Zheng Zhihao, CEO of Maoyan, will serve as CEO.

Both Maoyan and Weying have quickly used their positions and audience-trend data to diversify upstream into film investment, marketing and distribution support. Maoyan was involved in the promotion of films such as “Mr. Donkey,” “Some Like It Hot,” “Line Walker,” “Big Fish & Begonia,” and “Your Name.” Weying this year made one of the biggest announcements of the Cannes Film Festival, when it agreed to buy rights to a slate of festival titles from sales agency Wild Bunch.

Online ticketing accounts for 80% of cinema ticket sales in China, much of it by smartphone users. That is a large proportion compared with other countries.

Last year, following earlier consolidations within the sector, the ticketing platforms cut the discounts that they offered in order to attract customers. The elimination of those discounts is regarded as a major contributing factor to the brutal slowdown in box office that started in July 2016 and lasted for a year.

It is unclear whether the Maoyan-Weying consolidation will provoke another reduction in discounts, and whether audiences will again stay away.

The impact on competitors such as Tao Piao Piao is also unclear. In its August financial statement, Alibaba Pictures confirmed that Tao Piao Piao was growing its revenues but was heavily loss-making, because of the subsidies it paid out as marketing expenses. Nuomi was left by the wayside earlier this year, when Baidu cut its support.

The Maoyan-Weying merger has the potential to make the ticketing market healthier for the other players. (Weying previously merged with Gewara.) But fierce competition is likely to endure. Alibaba and Tencent have the financial and cloud-computing firepower to wage a long-term battle for market dominance.

Meituan-Dianping is itself the product of a consolidation involving many of the same companies. With services ranging from meal-delivery and neighborhood services to Groupon-like discount purchasing, Meituan-Dianping was formed in 2015 by the merger of Alibaba-backed Meituan with the Tencent-backed Dianping. Alibaba has now sold most of its shares in the combined company. Meituan-Dianping subsequently raised $3.3 billion in early 2016, and it is reported to be currently seeking a further $10 billion.

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