In the most significant move by Alibaba Pictures to date, the company has taken a minority equity stake in Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Partners. Under what is being termed a “comprehensive strategic partnership,” the production arm of Jack Ma’s China e-commerce giant will team with Amblin to co-produce and finance films for global and Chinese audiences. Alibaba Pictures will also collaborate on the marketing, distribution and merchandising of Amblin’s movies in the Middle Kingdom. An as-yet unnamed Alibaba Pictures representative will join Amblin’s board of directors.
The news comes out of Beijing this morning where Spielberg, who is Chairman of Amblin, said, “We are proud and excited that such a valued company as Alibaba Pictures is joining with our other highly-respected partners, Reliance Entertainment, Participant Media and Entertainment One, in building our growth and strengthening our company even further. Our vision is to inspire and entertain audiences through creativity and imagination both here and around the world. We would also like to thank Jack Ma for his friendship and support.”
Amblin and Alibaba will leverage their combined resources, technology and talent to co-produce films that appeal to China and global audiences, and collaborate on other Amblin projects around the world. Alibaba will also have the option to co-finance Amblin Partners films worldwide, the companies said today. The Chinese outfit’s reach in digital marketing, online ticketing, cinema services and operations and entertainment e-commerce extends to Alibaba Group’s 434M active users and various platforms.
Amblin Partners was officially born in December last year as a film, television and digital content creation company. The partners at the time had culled together over $300M with the bulk coming from Participant. Spielberg is also personally invested. Financial details of the Alibaba arrangement were not disclosed.
The Spielberg-led company develops and produces films using the Amblin, DreamWorks and Participant labels. It has a deal at Universal which handles marketing and distribution under a multi-year pact, beginning with this weekend’s The Girl On The Train.
Alibaba Pictures made its first investment in a global tentpole with Paramount/Skydance’s Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation last year and has since increased its involvement with Hollywood. Its other international investments include Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out Of The Shadows, Star Trek Beyond, and Korean pic REAL. During its China run, Rogue Nation became the highest-grossing 2D Hollywood film ever. TMNT2 and Star Trek Beyond more recently enjoyed successful Middle Kingdom runs, albeit at a time when box office has hit a lull in the world’s second biggest market.
Alibaba is also partnered with Skydance Media to finance and produce the WWII-themed Flying Tigers which Randall Wallace is scripting.
Today’s deal, Alibaba Pictures Chairman Shao Xiaofeng said, is “an important milestone in our globalization strategy to reach Chinese and global audiences alike.”
Amblin’s latest films include The BFG and The Light Between Oceans. The BFG has grossed upwards $175M and has a Chinese release set for October 14. A Dog’s Purpose, the family film from Lasse Hallstrom, is scheduled for domestic release in January via Universal. Also upcoming is Ready Player One, a co-production between Amblin and Warner Bros, which stars Tye Sheridan and newcomer Philip Zhao. That’s set for March 2018.