Media

The next media mogul?

Is Alibaba trying to create the Chinese Bloomberg?

Jack Ma, Founder and Executive Chairman of Alibaba Group addresses the Economic Club of New York

In the news, now owning it too

What might China’s answer to Bloomberg look like? There have been no shortage of aspiring contenders. Wind In­­formation has made Michael Bloomberg’s biography essential reading for its managerial staff. Great Wisdom, another data provider, literally made itself too much of a Bloomberg lookalike: it was taken to the Chinese courts in 2013 by the US firm.

The strongest candidate may have just emerged. And the new venture will be backed by China’s richest man Jack Ma (as ranked by Bloomberg no less) and Lai Ruigang, a media mogul who once turned down the chance to head Rupert Murdoch’s Chinese ventures (see WiC218).

The powerful duo teamed up last week as a result of Alibaba’s decision to pay Shanghai Media Group (SMG) Rmb1.2 billion ($194 million) for an undisclosed stake in China Business Network, a financial media unit which also controls the China Business News newspaper. It also means that SMG, viewed by many as the most powerful state media firm, has combined forces with one of the biggest private-sector internet firms.

“When I was in the US I saw content produced by Bloomberg, Reuters and Dow Jones, and I had the strong feeling that we should have similar media firms to go with China’s economic development,” said Lai, the chairman of SMG, at a press conference. SMG’s plan is to set up a financial data and information platform targeting the country’s fast-growing investing community. Jack Ma, meanwhile, is aiming to build an array of online financial services that will challenge the traditional dominance of state-owned banks and financial institutions.

Reaction to Alibaba’s CBN purchase has been overwhelmingly positive in the press, even though it means a strong new competitor to most media firms.

Technology News, a service run by Alibaba’s archrival Tencent, wrote that there is now a pressing need for fast, powerful data tools to analyse the Chinese market. “Currently there is no such domestic service with the authority to rival Bloomberg’s… and most small companies can’t afford one of their terminals,” it said.

Running popular online shopping sites Tmall and Taobao, as well as China’s largest e-payment provider Alipay, Alibaba presides over a huge reservoir of data spanning e-commerce, finance, logistics, health and culture. The commercial use of this big data pool, according to Xinhua, is what Alibaba and SMG are keen to explore.

Starting last year, Alipay and CBN began collaborating on stock quote information. CBN’s wealth management information tool will also soon launch on Mobile Taobao.

A commentary on China.com says the move may pave the way for more tie-ups between traditional media outlets and internet companies. “Jack Ma is not a Don Quixote or madman who thinks he is a financial knight. His innovative ideas and approach to investment inspire the market,” it said.

In fact, in 2012 Tencent also acquired a stake in Caixin Media, the publisher of influential financial magazine Caixin Weekly. (At the time the Shanghai Daily reported that Tencent bought 19.9% for Rmb56.5 million.) Then in 2014, China Media Capital, a state-backed but more entrepreneurial investment firm (which is chaired by Lai Ruigang), bought a controlling stake in Caixin.

Internet giants from the private sector aren’t the only companies that want a bigger voice in the financial media. State Grid has invested Rmb50 million for a stake in the business portal of 21st Century Media, the publisher of 21CN Business Herald. And according to the Global Times, State Grid also owns a minority stake in CBN. “It is worthy to invest in influential media, because media is not designed for making profits but to lead public discourse,” the Global Times said, in a telling assessment of the industry’s business model.


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