Alibaba has been nothing if not completely transparent about its video-streaming ambitions to date: The Chinese ecommerce giant isn’t joking when it says it wants to be the Netflix of China.
Today, it took a step closer to realising that vision when it rolled out a beta of its Tmall Box Office (TBO) subscription service — only available to a handful of users for now — for a monthly price of about $6.
While the company didn’t make an official announcement on the launch, it did offer VentureBeat the following statement via email:
The Tmall Box Office is in a beta launch phase and it has been rolled out on certain models of the Tmall Box. Alibaba Group is committed to providing high-quality and engaging content to users on a variety of devices to meet their entertainment needs.
However, when pressed for more details, an Alibaba spokesperson declined to comment.
In mid-June, Alibaba’s president of digital entertainment business, Patrick Liu, said at the Shanghai International Film Festival that the company aims “to become like HBO and Netflix in the U.S.,” according to The Wall Street Journal.
“Our mission… is to redefine home entertainment,” he was quoted by Reuters as saying at the same event.
Much in the way that Netflix partnered with manufacturers like Funai, Panasonic, Sanyo, Sharp, and Toshiba, Alibaba is partnering with Chinese TV manufacturers TCL, Hisense, and Haier in order to reach more consumers.
Also like Netflix, TBO is expected to offer a mixture of original and licensed content from China and abroad. Notably, local Internet rivals Baidu and Tencent are both already in the online video-streaming space in China.
But Alibaba is not without its own edge — last year it bought a 16.5 percent stake in Youku Tudou, one of China’s most popular video streaming platforms.
In March, Alibaba picked up an 8.8 percent stake in TV and film producer Beijing Enlight Media for close to $390 million, and, along with its growing Aliyun cloud business, is trying to chip out new revenue streams as it fights off beatings from Wall Street. (Alibaba’s shares recently dipped below their IPO price).
On Monday, the company’s film unit Alibaba Pictures — the result of an $800 million majority stake purchase in film studio ChinaVision Media Group last year — reportedly pumped several million dollars into a small Beijing-based startup that wants to be China’s answer to Pixar.
Let’s see how the beta rollout of TBO goes, and we’ll be sure to update you if and when we get word from the company on a more complete launch.