Losses eased at Alibaba Pictures, the film unit of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba, in 2018, largely on the strength of an improved performance in its ticketing and distribution operations.
The company changed its year end from December to March, and this time reported a 15-month period stretching from January 2018 to the end of March 2019. Net after-tax losses amounted to RMB295 million ($42.8 million), compared to RMB1.79 billion ($259 million) in 12 months of 2017. Revenues were reported as RMB3.03 billion ($439 million) for the 15 months, compared with RMB3.30 billion ($478 million) for 2017.
Alibaba Pictures has its own share listings in Hong Kong and Singapore. Parent group Alibaba regained majority control through a special share issue during the financial year.
Alibaba Pictures’ online promotion and distribution division, consisting largely of the Tao Piao Piao cinema-ticketing platform, saw revenues of $357 million over 15 months, down from $386 million in 2017. But that still resulted in operating profits of $56 million, versus 2017’s losses of $128 million, after the division halved its marketing expenses from $465 million in 2017 to $229 million.
China’s movie-ticketing sector underwent a period of consolidation and government-imposed caps on subsidies offered to consumers. The company attributed the slashing of marketing expenses to “higher overall operating efficiency.”
The company was involved with the release of five films that each enjoyed box office of more than RMB1 billion: “The Wandering Earth,” “Hello Mr. Billionaire,” “Dying to Survive,” “Project Gutenberg” and “The Green Book.”
The content production segment moved in the opposite direction, with lower revenues of RMB459 million (compared with RMB556 million) and losses of RMB221 million instead of a nominal profit. “The reporting period marked a period of adjustment for our content-related policies: on the one hand, we managed to complete historical projects; on the other hand, we also reserved new projects for the next financial year, which, with the support from our new policies for content production, will see us focusing on delivering more quality contents,” the company said.
The regulatory filing, made late Tuesday evening, confirmed share stakes in Bona Film Group, Hehe Pictures and Amblin Partners as Alibaba Pictures’ three largest outside investments. It also has a RMB1 billion ($145 million) holding of convertible bonds belonging to cinema operator Dadi.
The filing also revealed that Alibaba Pictures had lent RMB700 million ($101 million) to Huayi Brothers, one of China’s largest private-sector film studios. The loan was made in February, but was not previously disclosed.