EXCLUSIVE: Netflix has acquired popular Chinese drama Empresses In The Palace for its U.S. service, cutting down the original series’ 76 45-minute episodes into six 90-minute episodes. The show, which first aired in China as well as several other Asian countries in 2011, follows the intrigues among the emperor’s concubines in the imperial palace of the Qing Dynasty.
Intriguingly, however, the move’s real significance could be in marking a foundation for a major new relationship for the streaming giant with LeTV, one of China’s leading online video platforms with more than 100,000 TV episodes and 5,000 movies.
Deadline understands that execs from Netflix and LeTV met this week to begin discussing ways in which the two companies can collaborate moving forward. One particular area of interest will be with the international rollout of LeTV Cloud. LeTV has big ambitions for its cloud platform: In January this year it said it had closed a deal with Microsoft to work closely together to build a global platform based on Microsoft’s cloud platform, integrating LeTV’s video cloud computing service with Microsoft’s media service Windows Azure.
LeTV has already met with leading content providers, including Sony and HBO, about getting access to its content to place on what execs are describing will be “an open platform.” The initial focus for LeTV Cloud will be in the U.S., and execs are planning to offer both Chinese- and English-language content. LeTV execs are also looking to roll out their cloud service into other European territories by the end of the year. The immediate focus will be on territories where there is alresdy a significant Chinese diaspora.
It is the potential partnership with Netflix that could offer plenty of synergies. As one of China’s leading online video platforms, LeTV would make a natural partner in the Middle Kingdom for Ted Sarandos’ ambitious disrupter. Netflix’s chief content officer has been vocal in his desire to see Netflix expand into China although has been keen to stress the company’s desire to do so without a local partner. Speaking to reporters in Shanghai in March, Sarandos commented, “These ventures become very complex and very difficult to manage, and ultimately difficult to be successful.”
Going alone though would leave Netflix “subject to a censorship and regulatory environment that we haven’t had to deal with,” added Sarandos.
Although talks between the companies are in their infancy, on the table is both collaboration on original English-language and Chinese-language content, as well as both parties facilitating the other’s global ambitions: Netflix’s desire to enter the potentially massive online Chinese market, and LeTV’s desire to branch out internationally.
LeTV has been displaying its big ambitions in recent months. In August last year, execs from the company revealed it was seeking some $430 million in additional capital to finance its expansion, including securing $80 million at CITIC Securities, China’s leading investment bank and part of state-owned CITIC Group. As revealed by Deadline last October, LeTV’s film division, Le Vision, is setting shop stateside with an LA-based operation, complete with a multimillion-dollar fund geared towards making tentpoles for the global marketplace.
When contacted by Deadline for comment, a Netflix rep said they had no details to share on China.