Founded in 2014, Tao Piao Piao (formerly Taobao Movie) is one of the largest online ticketing services in China. Part of the sprawling Alibaba Group, it’s been involved with promoting smash hit mainstream flicks such as Wolf Warrior 2 and Operation Red Sea. Now, it’s getting involved in the promotion of arthouse cinema.
Over the last four years, it has cost much more than investors expected for Tao Piao Piao to expand its market share and attract more users to its platform. It appears that their investment has started to pay off, however. As Alibaba Pictures’ revenue “jumped 162 percent to 2.37 billion yuan ($375 million USD) in 2017 […] the film promotion and distribution segment’s loss narrowed to 351.4 million yuan last year from 607.4 million yuan in 2016,” according to The Hollywood Reporter.
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As the exclusive internet-based ticket distributor for 2017 smash hit Wolf Warrior 2, Tao Piao Piao received subsidies from the film’s production companies so that it could offer tickets at the lowest price. This strategy paid off, as Tao Piao Piao sold nearly 50% of the presales, as well as two fifths of all tickets on the day the film premiered (link in Chinese). The platform used its data to identify the film’s target fan base, combining gender, age, education level, activity level, profession, shopping preferences, and other data points to target its promotions.
In fact, Tao Piao Piao has evolved into far more than a ticket booking platform — it now functions as an important film distribution and promotion service provider. Over Chinese New Year in February, Tao Piao Piao was the co-distributor of Operation Red Sea and Detective Chinatown 2, the two films that took the highest box office share. Chen Sicheng, director of the latter, said in an interview (link in Chinese) with the 21st Century Business Herald, “The whole Alibaba Group is like an integration of resources, including Taobao and Alipay, along with Tao Piao Piao, which is not simply an e-ticket platform.”
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But Tao Piao Piao isn’t only focused on blockbusters. The platform has also helped a number of art films with distribution in China — it sold 50% of first day tickets for Twenty Two, a documentary focusing on the Chinese “comfort women” who survived the Japanese occupation during World War II. It also sold 53.7% of tickets to the China release of Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, which won two Academy Awards earlier this year. And as the exclusive ticketing platform for the Beijing International Film Festival, Tao Piao Piao helped double first day ticket sales for the event; the company will also be the exclusive ticketing platform for the upcoming Shanghai International Film & TV Festival in June.
Adding to its breadth of scope, on April 16 Tao Piao Piao formally announced (link in Chinese) a deeper collaboration with the Nationwide Alliance of Arthouse Cinemas (NAAC), an initiative of the China Film Archive and several major cinema chains to screen more art films within China. The platform will invest 300 million RMB (more than $47 million USD) to support and promote 20 high-quality art films in China over the next three years. The deal also includes an effort to build an art film promotion model that includes investment, production, promotion, distribution, and screenings, working in conjunction with production companies including Ali Pictures, Dirty Monkey Pictures, and Youku Films.
As opposed to mainstream, commercial films, the success of art films at the box office relies on word-of-mouth promotion among hardcore film lovers. This new partnership may give Tao Piao Piao an opportunity to use its advantage as a part of the Alibaba business ecosystem to promote more alternative films to a broader audience. Tao Piao Piao CEO Li Jie has said (link in Chinese) that the platform will create more internet-based art film promotion models, including a customer-to-business model with which users can decide which art films are screened in partner cinemas.
The news of Tao Piao Piao’s collaboration with the NAAC was followed by a report on Chinese movie news site Mtime (link in Chinese) that the next country-wide screening to take place under the Alliance will be a re-release of Wong Kar-wai’s acclaimed drama Days of Being Wild (pictured up top) in May. The 1960s-set film, originally released in 1990, was Wong’s first collaboration with cinematographer and Sinophile Christopher Doyle and features a star-studded cast including Andy Lau, Leslie Cheung, Maggie Cheung, and Jacky Cheung.
Tao Piao Piao’s link-up with, and investment in, the NAAC will hopefully see more films of this ilk making it to major cinema screens across China in the coming months.
Cover image: a still from Days of Being Wild.
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