How China is innovating with “entertainment ecosystems” and more...

SOKU, A video search engine part of Youku Tudou, and now part of the Alibaba Empire

From Alibaba’s “multi-screen empire” execution to We Chat and their “Swiss-army knife” messaging and “entertainment eco-system”, China is securing their role in the global entertainment and media landscape.

When I first became interested, and later involved, with the licensing and development of foreign TV formats and creative properties to produce. I did so for one main reason — foreign TV series, mainly TV in Korea and across Asia, were producing and distributing TV shows that embraced “transmedia”. They were strong on cross-platform distribution with social media activation. They saw mobile as crucial to a contents brand discovery and promotion. A main entry point to engagement.

After being involved in pushing innovation in multi-platform IP development and production, feeling that digital incubation provided benefit to long-form TV programming, the future seemed close. I lead creative on many original and licensed TV properties embracing “transmedia”, pitching aggressively to any and all studios or agencies, knowing that U.S. brands, like in Asia, saw a decreased risk for off-TV and direct to digital derivatives and extension strategies. It felt that if executed properly, branded digital story extensions were a great way to test creative, and that ready-made “all-media” creative properties and incubating digital IP to prime-time was ready for the States.

As a global focused TV and digital executive and producer, I find myself lately obsessed, with content innovation, not just on the creation side, but distribution, specifically internationally. And one market that is driving this desire to see what will be the “next, new new thing” in TV or digital creation and distribution, is China.

I wanted to jump into what is driving this by looking at a few of the players in the market, taking a look first at Alibaba.


Alibaba (the Amazon/Netflix/Comcast/PayPal/Ebay hybrid of China) has many pursuits through investments and acquisitions. It is fascinating to watch and see their global partner and investment strategy takes shape. They are being both aggressive, and careful, understanding that timing is everything. Alibaba has gained a lot of notice in part for its domination across many verticals in China, to its pursuit of becoming, at a crucial time, a major player as a “full cycle” entertainment empire — development, production and distribution — including an intense focus and expertise in e-commerce.

On the the e-commerce side Alibaba consistently innovates. They reached milestone sales on many different campaigns, with one major test and example being “Singles day” (China’s version of Cyber Monday). Where they achieved over a record 14.3 Billion in sales, on one day, from across their e-commerce platforms — the big takeaway being 69% of all transactions were done on a mobile phone/device.

Alibaba on NBC Nightly news about its record sales for “Singles Day”

Another piece of their strategy, is content, for which they acquired Yukou Tudou, an AVOD/SVOD/OTT in China and a major video platform and buyer of U.S. and global contents. The platform has deep integration with many different search engines, such as SoKu, which is also a competitor in the online video space in China, and also part of the Alibaba empire due to being part of Youku Tudou. It has a deep video search focused on discovery and a recommendations engine to online video for content on Yukou Tudou, as well as others.

Alibaba’s SVOD Service TBO — TMall Box Office

Outside of Yukou Tudou, Alibaba has its own SVOD service in TMall Box Office — TBO, which has been aggressive, without Netflix formally allowed in China as of yet, in its acquisition of global contents. Securing thousands of hours of content from everyone including DHX Media for children's content like “The Teletubbies” and “Paddington Bear”, to NBC Universal, which will provide its entire new slate and back catalogue. With all of the licensed global content to complement its original slate under Alibaba Pictures, that include films from Hong Kong filmmaker Wong Kar Wai amongst others.

A recent article on Social Brand Watch details this long-term vision of Alibaba. The article lays out the five ways that Alibaba’s acquisition of Youku Tudou is good for the Middle Kingdom, in a thoughtful fashion. Pointing to the acquisition allowing them to test, incubate and adapt to a global mindset, while strengthening relationships with US studios. With Alibaba being one of the largest companies in China embracing this rapid change. They display for the world to see, that they have their finger on the pulse of a digital, mobile first, hyper-connected generation, with deep reach across many different verticals, from entertainment creation and distribution, to e-commerce.

In China online for many years was one of the easier places to be able to watch US and global contents, with a bit less regulation than traditional TV and satellite. Due to a focused emphasis on digital and mobile, it has become one of the more competitive spaces in China with increased content acquisition costs, with all of the major players competing against each other for exclusive content as they move towards SVOD models. And with China being the last major country Netflix has yet to formally enter, Alibaba and Jack Ma backed Wasu Media had been discussed as a prospective partner for the premier global OTT service in the region at one time, many of their other strategies might stymie this. Especially the recent move by Alibaba in a strategic partnership with Disney, where Disney will not just license content, but also partner on a device called DisneyLife. This will of course be available through Alibaba’s deep network of ecommerce platforms, and also continue to promote China’s focus on the “one-stop shop” where consumers can also purchase theme park tickets.


WeChat, a global messaging platform owned by China’s TenCent, has proven to be a go-to platform for local and many global brands in China, to create and position their creative brand-story to the Chinese consumer.

Overview of the reach and “one-stop shop” strategy of WeChat

The platform provides a very high level of personal engagement. And understands fully the power of “cross-platform” messaging and interaction.

WeChat “Red Envelope” cross-platform strategy & promotion with CCTV

With an ability to create targeted customized messaging utilizing all forms of media. While offering direct access to many different verticals from video extensions and mobile gaming, with some even using it to broker real estate deals, all within one-platform. Over time, international brands have seen the potential to reach a highly engaged and “mobile-first” audience. Creating tailored and exclusive accounts and channels around brand promotion and recognition, with careful and thoughtful strategies engaging new and existing audiences and consumers through the platform.

WeChat Brand Channels

The power of WeChat is in its marketing and brand building functions. Probably the best dissection of the power of WeChat as a “one-stop shop” app, and to truly get the power for which it yields, and the immense opportunity in knowing how it works was detailed in an article by Connie Chan, partner at Andreessen Horowitz. If you want to understand WeChat. Read her article! There are many examples of successful brand campaigns with “off-platform” activation and rich video, to see why WeChat is leading in terms of being a primary destination, instead of having six different apps, when one can cover all your bases. One challenge in crafting a “WeChat strategy” can be does your content/brand/service appeal to a mainly Chinese audience that uses it, and to be successful, you should have two dedicated channels, one in English and one Chinese.

The Chinese audience is heavily sought after, as well as non-Chinese speakers who use the platform as their main form of messaging and communication. Which is why some media brands are moving to producing content exclusively in English, for users outside of China. One media brand that is currently doing this is The NY Times. The Times has crafted a strategy that they are implementing, and which other M&E brands can crib notes from, as they look to incubate and build content awareness in China, and for any user and audience on the platform.

In 2015 The NY Times partnered with WeChat and pushed forward this strategy by launching an exclusive channel created in English. The challenge at first was that the NY Times channel would not even be available within China, but to international WeChat users only. It showed the importance of the content to many people, as well as the opportunity for content providers and creators to incubate and adapt localized strategies to build brand engagement where we can; with an emphasis on “customization” and “personalization” that is important, and crucial, to any digital strategy.

WeChat has been a top messaging platform for many years in APAC, and a top choice for global brands, with everyone from Coca Cola and OMG!BuzzFeed to countless consumer brands like Coach, Gucci, et al. With targeted campaigns encouraging engagement and finding new ways to “incentivize”consumers/users through games, contests and giveaways tied to a brand and its story.

Promotional piece for a WeChat branded channel

WeChat makes it easy and comfortable for brands to create tailored channels, is always finding new ways to build more depth through their platform to connect with users, and assist all forms of brands in getting people to care and engage with advanced capabilities that include payment, customized apps within the app, GPS locators, Uber and Lyft like car service, live chats and more.

For brands and content providers, crafting a strategy that understands how WeChat works, and by taking the time to craft a thoughtful and tailored campaign or strategy to target their users -will make it easier to enter the Chinese market. It is where most importantly, with over 1.12 billion registered users and 500 million active users, it is a great place to adapt future strategies with a focus on the “one-stop shop platform” and entry point to the future of “entertainment eco-systems”.

Global Content, Branding, and Development guy obsessed with international creativity and what's next in digital.

Global Content, Branding, and Development guy obsessed with international creativity and what's next in digital.