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Steven Spielberg's Amblin Partners and Chinese billionaire's firm announce global production deal

Steven Spielberg's Amblin Partners and Chinese billionaire's firm announce global production deal
Alibaba founder Jack Ma waits for the trading to open on the floor at the New York Stock Exchange in September 2014. (AFP/Getty Images)

Steven Spielberg, Hollywood’s most famous and highest-grossing director, is teaming up with China’s second-richest man, in the latest big tie-up between the U.S. film business and a Chinese industry titan.

Amblin Partners, Spielberg’s entertainment company, has signed a pact with Alibaba Pictures, the entertainment arm of Jack Ma’s ecommerce giant Alibaba Group, in a wide-ranging deal that allow the two to co-produce and co-finance movies.  

Amblin hopes the alliance with Alibaba will give its movies a leg up in trying to reach the growing audience of Chinese moviegoers through the company's prowess in digital marketing, distribution and movie ticket sales. Alibaba is looking to Spielberg to help it become a bigger film business player as China tries to learn from Hollywood and make movies for a global audience.

The agreement, announced at a Sunday news conference in Beijing, will also allow Alibaba to take a minority stake in Amblin Partners, owned by a consortium that includes DreamWorks, Reliance Entertainment, Participant Media and Entertainment One. An Alibaba representative will have a seat on Amblin's board of directors. The companies did not disclose financial terms.

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Spielberg, known for blockbusters such as "E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial" and "Jaws," said he hopes to make movies "about the same values that we share both in the East and West."

"I'm hoping Jack and I can tell some of those stories in this new partnership," he said at the news conference with Ma, who is worth an estimated $28.8 billion. "We can bring more China to America and bring more America to China."

Alibaba has previously invested in individual movies, including Paramount Pictures’ “Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation,” helping to boost the blockbuster’s prospects in China. The Tom Cruise vehicle grossed an estimated $136 million in the country. But this represents the first Hollywood deal of its kind for Alibaba.

Ma said the alignment could provide "a cultural bridge and have a positive impact on the next generation of Chinese consumers."

The newest deal comes at a time when Chinese companies, including Dalian Wanda Group, Tencent and Hunan TV, are investing heavily in U.S. entertainment assets — a trend that has attracted the attention of some concerned lawmakers. 

Last month, 16 members of Congress signed a letter asking the Government Accountability Office to review whether Washington is doing enough to prevent the Chinese government from using studio deals for propaganda. One prominent lawmaker has asked the U.S. Department of Justice to look into the dealing of Wanda and other Chinese firms investing in entertainment. 

Wanda has so far been the biggest player in the industry. The media conglomerate run by Wang Jianlin, China’s richest man, owns theater chain AMC Entertainment and Burbank film producer Legendary Entertainment and is trying to buy Dick Clark Productions. It recently signed a deal with Sony to invest in a handful of the studio’s movies, giving Sony access to Wanda’s theatrical and marketing clout. 

China has the world's second-largest box-office market next to the U.S. and Canada, and studios have turned to the country as a rare growth area for their prospective blockbusters. The country has proved a powerful market for even movies that bomb in the U.S., such as Legendary's critically reviled "Warcraft." China is expected to soon pass the U.S.-Canada box office in terms of annual ticket sales.

Spielberg is hoping his latest movie, "The BFG," has a strong showing in China after posting weak returns at home. The big-budget Roald Dahl adaptation opens Oct. 14 in China after grossing just $55 million in the U.S. and Canada. Alibaba has a large pull with Chinese entertainment consumers, operating an online ticket-selling platform, a streaming service and a set-top box maker. Alibaba Group, founded by Ma in 1999, counts 434 million users across its various services.

UPDATES:

11:35 a.m.: This article was updated with a comment from Jack Ma.

10:35 a.m.: This article was updated throughout with staff reporting, including additional information and quotes.

This article was originally published at 9:40 a.m.

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