Alibaba folds film production financing, investment operations into Alibaba Pictures

Bien Perez

Alibaba Group plans to fold its online movie ticketing as well as film production financing and investment operations into Alibaba Pictures, the e-commerce giant’s Hong Kong-listed entertainment business.

In a filing with the Hong Kong stock exchange on Wednesday, Alibaba Pictures chairman Shao Xiaofeng said the company initially received a non-binding proposal from its parent firm for the asset injection on March 25 and a more detailed proposal on Tuesday.

“The company will evaluate the possible business injection and other possible transactions in light of its new business model,” Shao said.

Last year, Alibaba Pictures restructured its operations soon after the company was taken over by Hangzhou-based Alibaba Group. Its mobile value-added business was sold off, while its magazine distribution as well as magazine and television advertising businesses were discontinued.

Alibaba had invested US$804 million in March last year to purchase a 60-per cent controlling interest in China Media Group, which changed its name to Alibaba Pictures in August.

Shao pointed out that “no agreements have been entered into and no terms or timetable have been agreed upon in relation to the possible business injection”.

Still, that development was received as good news by investors. Shares of Alibaba Pictures surged to a record high of HK$3.48 before the noon break as trading resumed. The company had requested a halt in trading on March 24.

Both of New York-listed Alibaba’s online movie ticketing business as well as financing and investment platform for the production of movies and other media content commenced operations last year.

“We believe that integrating these two businesses complements Alibaba Pictures’ existing lines of business and helps realise Alibaba Group’s vision of making digital media entertainment available to our customers anywhere anytime,” a spokesman for parent Alibaba said on Wednesday.

Ricky Lai, a research analyst at Guotai Junan International, said: “We expect that asset injection to be completed this year and further transform Alibaba Pictures into a bigger, one-stop operation for movie production, financing and ticket sales.”

It would mark a show of confidence in Alibaba Pictures, following the controversy sparked last year by its new management’s discovery of potential accounting irregularities in the company last August.

“The mis-statements are largely due to the business and accounting practices, as well as internal control deficiencies under the prior management, rather than [fraud],” Alibaba Pictures said in December.

The company posted a loss of 417.276 million yuan last year, from a net profit of 179.671 million yuan in 2013, mainly due to a significant drop in revenue, asset impairment provisions and decrease in gains from a disposal of a subsidiary.

Revenue fell to 126.631 million yuan, from 349.378 million yuan a year earlier.

Shao said Alibaba Pictures’ “new strategic direction calls for an integrated approach towards the funding, production, marketing and distribution of entertainment content and a further expansion of the company’s business”.

He added that the company’s results “may be affected over a certain period due to additional investment in executing its new strategy”.

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