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Alibaba film unit to shoot first, plan distribution later

Alibaba film unit to shoot first, plan distribution later

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The film arm of Alibaba Group plans to release about two dozen new titles in the next few years under its newly launched original filmmaking label, Surprise Works.

“We hope to find suitable distribution channels either through cinemas or online screening sites for young directors and target suitable audiences with various production genres,” said Jerry Li, vice president of Alibaba Group and head of filmmaking at Alibaba’s digital entertainment unit.

Surprise Works aims to target moviegoers in their 20s who favor genre films such as romantic comedies, sci-fi, thrillers, and feature films related to everyday life.

“We intend to focus on film content first and to decide the distribution channel afterwards so as to seek better synergies and maximize investment return,” he said

Another 15 co-production films are also underway with big-name studios such as Huace Films, Universe Entertainment and famous directors like Ann Hui.  

According to the China Movie Data Information Network, China’s year-to-date box office revenue has exceeded 16 billion yuan (US$240 billion) as of last week, with the top four earners contributing more than half of the earnings.

Movie studios have been prompted by the coronavirus pandemic to alter film distribution models and include online screening as an important part of film releases. Li expects this will become a general practice in the next few years for studios to no longer treat new productions for theatrical release and online releases separately.

As Chinese moviegoers have become more critical of blockbuster titles, they are also favoring smaller productions from young directors with unique perspectives.

For its online screening site Youku, it also plans to explore subscription user payment, transactional video on demand payment, film derivatives and other means for online film release.  

The Hong Kong-listed Alibaba Pictures reported a net loss of 162 million yuan in the six months as of September this year, shrinking from that of 390 million yuan from the year-earlier period, it said in a stock exchange filing earlier this month.

Its content production segment recorded revenue of 3.82 million yuan, adding 87 percent from a year ago, with profit of 66.27 million yuan compared to a loss of 75.03 million yuan.

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