TCB In RMB: Pirates, Racers, Zombies, Oz

Welcome to TCB In RMB, a weekly summary of important developments in the Chinese entertainment business.

Australia’s Gold Coast in Queensland, future home to a $400m Chinese Theme Park.

Youku Streams Eternal Love; Piracy Causes Eternal Woe

If YouTube were to file a piracy suit against Google, it would be something like the copyright infringement litigation brought Wednesday by the Alibaba-owned Chinese streaming-video service, against Internet search titan Baidu. Specifically, the suit, seeking damages of $294,350, concerns the smash TV fantasy-romance, Eternal Love.

Youku holds that while it owns exclusive streaming rights to Eternal Love, users of the Baidu Cloud storage service have created massive numbers of downloadable copies of its episodes that still remain available after Youku served Baidu Cloud with a takedown notice.

Since its premiere in late January, Eternal Love, which features Heavenly Queen Yang Mi and heartthrob Marc Chao has racked up over 30 billion online views.

This is not Baidu’s first copyright suit: in 2013, the company was deemed in violation by the National Copyright Administration of China and fined $41,200 after litigation filed jointly by online video providers including Youku Tudou, Sohu Video, Tencent Video and LeTV.

That finding seems to have had little effect. According to Youku, there are more than one hundred and sixty thousand illegal links to copyrighted material on Baidu Cloud. More generally, the Chinese film industry feels the same pain— domestic films are said to lose $145 million annually due to digital piracy problems.

The Fast and Furious with Chinese Characteristics

Speedhunters, a $100 million, Hollywood-scale action thriller set in a souped-up, possibly-science-fiction-inflected world of formula racing, and written, directed and produced by Hollywood blockbuster franchise veterans is being financed and run out of China.

Teaming Transformers producer Lorenzo Di Bonaventura and The Fast and the Furious and xXx director Rob Cohen on a script by up-and-comer Josh Parkinson, the English-language project is being driven by China-based Jiaflix Enterprises and 1905 Pictures, a first for a project of this size and with such a noteworthy creative team. Speedhunters will feature a multicultural cast, including a pair of Chinese leads, and is set to shoot in Shanghai, at Babelsburg Studio and in other international locations beginning this July.

Tencent Pictures Spares a Dime for Channing Tatum

Tencent Pictures, the film and television subsidiary of Internet giant Tencent is partnering with Channing Tatum and Reid Carolin’s company, Free Association to co-produce the feature, Zombie Brother.

An English-language film aimed at the global marketplace, Zombie Brother is adapted from a popular Chinese comic series originally appearing on Tencent’s digital comics platform, and which has previously served as the basis for a hit animated series in China. Zombie Brother represents the first attempt to sell this generation of Chinese IP internationally.

Alibaba Throws Long Green at Short Video

E-commerce titan Alibaba announced Friday it would inject RMB 2 billion ($290 million) into its video subsidy, to compete in the booming market for short online videos.

In order to attract talented video-makers, Tudou is offering to pay its two thousand “most excellent” producers a monthly cash bonus atop their share of advertising revenues. (Tudou was acquired by Alibaba for $4.2 billion in 2016.)

China’s short video market has matured rapidly in recent years, leaving Alibaba to play catch-up.  The estimated active audience for short-form videos is currently some one hundred and thirty-one million viewers. In 2016, short video ventures in China were able to raise a total of $780 million in startup capital.  Beijing-based Yixia Technology, the developer of short video platforms Miaopai and Xiaokaxiu as well as live-streaming platform Yizhibo, secured $500 million alone in Series E financing. The news aggregator Toutiao has also recently invested $15 million to grow its original short video offerings.

In a press conference on Friday, Alibaba Entertainment Group CEO Yu Yongfu said, “If it was mobile first seven or eight years ago, today it’s video first.”

Chinese Theme Park Going Down Under

Targeting Australia’s expanding Chinese tourism industry, Songcheng Performance Development, a Hangzhou-based stage show operator has announced a $400 million plan to launch Australian Legendary Kingdom, a theme park in the Queensland area called the Gold Coast.

Australian Legendary Kingdom represents the company’s first overseas investment. Unlike the “Song Dynasty Town” replica of its signature theme park in Hangzhou Songcheng’s Gold Coast location is set to feature an Aboriginal Cultural Village.

According to a recent report, Songcheng claims it has already allocated $66 million for buying land for the park at a site in the town of Nerang, and they now seek private equity to partner on the remainder of the venture. Per the company’s latest annual report, Songcheng Performance earned $20 million in 2016, an increase of 8.4% over the previous year.