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Alibaba’s video arm signs deals with NBCUniversal, Sony Pictures

File photo: Ailbaba applications are seen on an Apple Inc. iPhone and iPad arranged for a photograph in Hong Kong, China, on Wednesday, July 27, 2017. (Photographer: Anthony Kwan / Bloomberg)

ALIBABA Group Holding Ltd.’s video streaming service, Youku Tudou, has signed content licensing deals with NBCUniversal and Sony Pictures Television, marking a deeper foray into entertainment for the Chinese e-commerce giant.

The multiyear agreements give Youku subscribers access to hundreds of films from the studios, the service said on Thursday in a statement. Users will also have faster access to new and recently released movies, including Blade Runner 2049 and Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, Youku said.

The deal comes as China’s tech giants are spending aggressively to acquire entertainment content and create original programming. Youku is competing with Baidu Inc.’s iQiyi streaming platform—which recently teamed up with Netflix Inc.—and Tencent Holdings Ltd.’s video service. Rising content costs are weighing on the tech companies’ bottom lines, as they pursue user and subscription growth.

“I am confident that expanding our relationships with more international studios will further enhance our platform’s penetration into the home-entertainment business and push the online video” and over-the-top businesses to greater heights, Yang Weidong, president of Youku, Alibaba Digital Media and Entertainment Group, said in the statement.

In recent years Alibaba has spent billions of dollars on entertainment-media assets as the company seeks growth outside of its main e-commerce business. The company has increased its profile in Hollywood, backing movies like the latest Mission Impossible film. Alibaba bought a stake in Amblin Partners, the production outfit backed by Steven Spielberg, in October 2016 to work together to produce and finance films globally and in China. The Fate of the Furious, a new installment in the Universal series, had strong demand in China, taking in $393 million there earlier this year.

The licensing deal also helps NBCUniversal and Sony make further inroads in the Chinese market as the domestic home-video sales decline. Universal Pictures and Sony Pictures are among several United States studios that have deals with Chinese entities to fund their films and help market movies in China.

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