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Monday, October 24, 2016, 10:04

Netflix wannabes vie for viewers


Tomb-raiding soldiers and imperial courtvillains are leading the latest battlefront for China’s internet giants, which are pouring billions of dollars into new digital content to create the nation’s answer to Netflix Inc.

Streaming platforms from Baidu Inc, Alibaba Group Holding Ltd and Tencent Holdings Ltd are among more than a dozen vying for dominance in an industry forecast to expand almost 30 per cent a year through 2020.

Whereas Youtube-style videos and the odd pirated TV episode were once enough to draw web viewers, they’re now seeking — and willing to pay up to 19.8 yuan ($2.95) a month to watch — more compelling characters on original, professionally made TV and movies.

The drive for content has resulted in an expensive – and so far, unprofitable -- creative showdown for internet companies. They have bought studios, distribution rights and elaborate scripts to lure streaming customers who IHS Markit predicts will spend 16 billion yuan annually on subscription fees by 2020.

Alibaba ratcheted up the competition recently, with founder Jack Ma and Steven Spielberg announcing that their companies will jointly produce and finance films, tapping what Ma described as “an increasing demand for premium global content” among Chinese consumers.

Baidu’s 80.5 percent-owned online video platform, iQiyi, will spend at least 10 billion yuan on content next year.

“My boss always says there is no limit,” Emily Dai, who runs the team producing iQiyi’s in-house shows, said in an interview. “Every year we do at least 30 programs. So, as long as we can find good programs, we can fund them all.”

IQiyi is focused on buying and producing internet TV shows that can generate hundreds of millions of views.

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