Wanda Cinema Line to Go Head to Head with Alibaba, Baidu, Tencent in Online Video

The world’s largest cinema exhibitor is about to get into video streaming in a busy Chinese marketplace.

China’s already crowded online video streaming market looks set to have a new challenger with Wanda Cinema Line, the theatrical exhibition arm of Chinese property development giant Dalian Wanda, set to launch its own video streaming website this year.

The company, which recently announced it would be rebranding as Wanda Film Holding Co., Ltd., will launch the service — as well as a new ticketing platform — this year. John Zeng, president of Wanda Cinema Line said while speaking to local media outlet Sina Entertainment on Friday,

“We will be launching the Mtime Online Cinema this year,” Zeng told Sina Entertainment. “Because there are a lot of video technology, copyright issues, and business model problems, we can’t just launch a simple app, so we have to spend a relatively long time on the planning. As for movie tickets, we will also have our own new sales platform.”

Online streaming in China is already a fiercely contested space with the three main internet companies — Baidu, Alibaba, and Tencent, collectively known as BAT — vying for market share. Baidu’s iQiyi service, Alibaba-owned Youku-Tudou, and Tencent’s video platforms have each been luring money into original content and foreign content.

In the latest deal last week, iQiyi confirmed its licensing deal with global streaming giant Netflix to stream a selection of their shows including Black Mirror, Stranger Things, Mindhunter, BoJack Horseman, and Ultimate Beastmaster.

That followed an announcement from iQiyi last month that it had signed an exclusive distribution deal with Warner Bros. that includes such titles as The Lord of the Rings, Godzilla, and Gravity.

Chinese regulators require streaming sites to curtail overseas content to 30 percent of the online airtime given to domestic productions in the previous year— so the entry of another big player with big pockets should bode well for Hollywood studios.

Wanda has been rapidly expanding its assets and capability in the entertainment industry in recent years buying up overseas cinema chains, producing Zhang Yimou’s The Great Wall, purchasing Mtime, and, just last week getting into gaming.

The new streaming service looks set to come out of Mtime, in which Wanda took an equity stake in for US$350 million in cash last year. Mtime has been described as China’s answer to Fandango, IMDb, Rotten Tomatoes, Entertainment Tonight, and Mattel all rolled into one.

Mtime’s website attracts about 160 million unique monthly users, and its mobile ticketing platform has about 10 percent market share.

As of June 2016, China has 514 million online video viewers, over 70 percent of total Chinese internet users, according to China Internet Network Information Center, but finding the right business model to take advantage of this vast user base has been a challenge.

Late last year Martin Lau, the president of Tencent, said the state of the video streaming market was “very unhealthy for everyone,” and that “all other digital content industries are actually in a better shape than the video industry.”