Internet & Tech

Master Ma

Alibaba boss stars in Tai Chi film as Singles’ Day looms

Faye-wong-w

Faye Wong: dueting with Ma

Jack Ma once said that he wished he hadn’t left his life as an English teacher, as he was happier without the stress of managing a multibillion-dollar business.

But perhaps what Ma really wants to be is a performer. He’s been known to dress up, sing and dance at Alibaba conventions and recently he ventured further, taking the stage at a computing conference to sing ‘Unchained Melody’ and other hits.

Now, like many singers, Ma has also made the transition into acting. An admirer of martial arts and a practitioner of Tai Chi, he is set to star in a 20-minute production called Gongshoudao, or roughly “The Art of Defence”. According to Alibaba’s news site Alizila, the purpose is to “globally promote Tai Chi because of its benefits to health and happiness and as a window onto Chinese culture”.

Joining Ma in this quest is a contingent of kung fu royalty, including Jet Li, Donnie Yen and Sammo Hung Kang-bo. (According to Alizila, none of the cast members are taking paycheques, although it’s not known whether pop diva Faye Wong – who duets with Ma on the movie’s theme song – has waived the hefty fee she usually charges for these kind of arrangements.)

The film is due for release on the (Alibaba-owned) video-streaming site Youku on November 11, the same day as the world’s largest shopping festival, Singles’ Day (see WiC345), which Alibaba commercialised.

Jack Ma says the two events aren’t connected but the film’s title is quite apt as Alibaba will have to defend its leadership position against a coordinated attack from its largest rivals.

The nation’s second largest e-commerce firm, JD.com, has teamed up with the likes of Tencent, Baidu and Toutiao to expand its reach during the 24 hours of the Singles’ Day extravaganza. Their deal allows JD to tap into user data on its partners’ platforms which, amongst other things, will enable it to place adverts more effectively.

JD is also subsidising logistics firms to the tune of Rmb2.1 billion, higher than the subsidies of Rmb1.5 billion offered by Alibaba.

However, advertising tweaks and delivery discounts are mere skirmishes in the battle for Singles’ Day dominance; more important factor is how many sellers are willing to offer discounts on the rival platforms. Jing Daily reports that 40 fashion brands have agreed to sell exclusively on Alibaba’s sites, for instance, leaving JD.com in the shade.

In a statement sent to Jing Daily, JD.com implied that Alibaba had coerced the companies into working with it exclusively. “Numerous brands have told us that another industry player is inappropriately using threats to attempt to force them to sell on only one site in China.”

JD.com was itself accused of underhand tactics ahead of its own annual sales festival on June 18. The founder of Liebo, a fashion retailer, took to weibo to complain that she had been locked out of her account and that the prices of her goods had been lowered. JD denied these claims.

Other retailers need more convincing that sales festivals of this scale are good for business. TMT Post interviewed one small business owner who complained: “I genuinely wish there wasn’t an online shopping festival. It’s just a game for big sellers, for platforms and logistics operators. Small and medium firms like us are left weeping. It’s a disaster.” Larger player LeTV has also alleged that “two major” e-commerce platforms had pressured it into greater discounts on its products too.

According to Reuters, allegations like these have compelled the State Administration for Industry and Commerce (SAIC) to warn against tactics that force brands to pick sides. Last week there was a revision to competition laws, which include harsher punishment for unscrupulous “e-tailers”. According to China Daily, sellers or platforms that sell fake goods or engage in “brushing” (see WiC327) will also face fines of up to Rmb2 million and lose their business licences. The new law won’t come into effect until January, so fraudulent players might have one last hurrah on Singles’ Day tomorrow.


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