Jon Russell was Asia Editor for The Next Web from 2011 to 2014. Originally from the UK, he lives in Bangkok, Thailand. You can find him on T Jon Russell was Asia Editor for The Next Web from 2011 to 2014. Originally from the UK, he lives in Bangkok, Thailand. You can find him on Twitter, Angel List, LinkedIn.
Alibaba is gearing up for one of the largest technology IPOs in history with more significant strategy and investment moves. The latest, this week, saw the company lead a $1.2 billion investment in Chinese online video service Youku Tudou and link up with browser-make UC Web to launch a mobile search joint venture.
Youku Tudou, which is comparable to a Chinese version of YouTube, is taking on investment from Alibaba and Yunfeng Capital, which will hold 16.5 percent and 2 percent shares respectively. The deal values Youku Tudou — which is listed on the NYSE and was created following a billion dollar merger in 2012 — at over $6.5 billion, but moreover it is a sign of Alibaba’s ambition to move into entertainment and mobile.
Jack Ma, the iconic founder and now executive chairman of Alibaba, said that the deal would “accelerate our digital entertainment and video content strategy… and bring new products and services to Alibaba’s customers.”
Online retail is what Alibaba is best known for (it’s also the overwhelming revenue driver), but the company has expanded into content too. It offers a chat app, partnered with Weibo (via an investment), has invested in media firms and it has its own mobile and smart TV operating systems, among other things. Linking up with Youku Tudou — which has been touting its popularity on mobile and presence on smart TVs lately — gives it a big chunk of a key content player in China.
Mobile is a key area of focus for Alibaba, particularly since it is where arch-rival Tencent and its WeChat app is so strong, and that’s where it’s second step this week took place.
Alibaba previously invested in UC Web — which recently hit 500 million quarterly users — and now it is pooling its collective brains with Shenma, a joint venture to offer a ‘mobile-centric search experience’ to users.
In addition to semantic app search — via a single interface to search China’s many fragmented app stores — and book search, it is “deeply integrated” with a range of Alibaba products, including its Alipay payments service, and Taobao and T-Mall retail stores.
UC Web says it browser sees more than six billion mobile search queries per month. With this joint venture, Alibaba is aiming to tap into UC Web to gain an even greater hold of mobile users.
Alibaba is likely to continue to make substantial investments and acquisitions in the lead up to its IPO. Here are some of the most notable deals:
- $804 million: A majority stake in TV and film production company ChinaVision Media Group
- $215 million: Lead investor in latest funding round for messaging app Tango
- $692 million: For a 35 percent stake in department store operator Intime
- $1.5 billion: To fully acquire mapping firm Autonavi
- Undisclosed: Part of $250 million funding round for Lyft
- $1 billion: Alibaba-affiliated investment firm bought a 20 percent share in Web TV operator Wasu Media
At this rate, it’s pretty accurate to say that Alibaba is looking to buy its way into China’s most influential companies as it looks to diversify and gain a more meaningful foothold in daily Chinese Web experiences.
Headline image via PETER PARKS/AFP/GettyImages
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