China's LeTV launches smartphone, inks production deals

Chinese entertainment and tech company LeTV said Tuesday it would launch its new mobile phones and smart television service in the U.S. and establish an American headquarters in Redwood City, joining a raft of Chinese competitors expanding their operations to California.

With splashy near-simultaneous events in Beijing and San Francisco, LeTV said it would initially target its offerings at Chinese-speaking Americans, a potentially receptive audience for its expansive library of TV episodes and films. The company said it planned to localize its products and content for the mainstream American market.

LeTV is among China’s top video streaming services and sellers of smart TVs and is involved in producing and distributing films and TV shows. The company, which has about 5,000 employees, also has a range of other businesses, from a streaming music service to a wine club, and last year established a branch office in Los Angeles.

LeTV executives described Silicon Valley, Los Angeles and Beijing as “the connective threads among the global centers of applications, innovation and entertainment.”

“Expanding to the U.S. is a natural progression of our business as we continue to aggressively pursue new services and markets,” said LeTV founder and chief executive Jia Yueting in a statement.

Jia said the company was pursuing a “six screens, one cloud” strategy that would aim to create a vertically integrated experience for users of mobile phones, tablets, computers and televisions, as well as movie theater audiences and even automobile passengers and drivers.

He took direct aim at Apple, criticizing what he called the Cupertino company’s lack of openness that “inhibited” innovation. In a statement, the company said it was trying to “break Apple’s monopoly” and “bring down the barriers of hardware, applications, interactions, organizations and innovation.”

Apple has recently seen extremely strong sales for its iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 plus in China.

Over the past year, Chinese technology and entertainment companies have been moving rapidly to establish a presence in both Northern and Southern California. Chinese Internet search giant Baidu, for example, has established an artificial intelligence lab in Silicon Valley.

Meanwhile, Chinese and U.S. entertainment companies have been inking a raft of co-production and investment deals. Chinese studio Huayi Bros. recently announced a major co-financing deal with Robert Simonds ' new movie and TV production company STX Entertainment; while Lionsgate and China’s Hunan TV have inked financing partnership worth hundreds of millions of dollars.

Letv said its Le 1 and Le 1 Pro model phones would sell for between $250 and $416 in China and would become available in the next several weeks. It was unclear when the phones or the company’s smart TVs would be available in the U.S.

 

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