Purchase of China Business Network seen as creation of Bloomberg equivalent
Alibaba Group appeared to be building the Chinese version of Bloomberg with a big investment in a business news outlet.
The e-commerce giant said on Thursday that it is spending 1.2 billion yuan ($193 million) on Shanghai-based financial media outlet China Business Network to provide financial news and data analysis services.
Many media organizations are hungering for investment from Alibaba, but according to journalism professor Shi Anbin at Tsinghua University, CBN was the right target for Alibaba because it is a cooperation between heavyweights from different industries.
The two will create a real data-oriented financial information provider in China, which integrates financial news services with data analysis, just like large US financial news provider Bloomberg, according to Shi.
"China's economic might has seen a rapid rise in recent decades, but its financial media outlets have failed to catch up. In fact, most of them still focus on covering news events and deal with financial reports in the same way they handle political reports," he said.
Alibaba refused to disclose the size of the stake it purchased in CBN, but financial website caixin.com reported that the Hangzhou-based company got a 36.74 percent share in the holding company under Shanghai Media Group, which owns CBN.
Private capital is allowed in the media industry but cannot hold a majority stake.
Shanghai Media Group is a merger of a number of State-owned media organizations in Shanghai, including local television and radio stations.
Jane Zhang, an analyst at advisory company Gartner Inc, said the investment in CBN demonstrates that Alibaba is now marching into the core battlefield of China's digital media sector.
"CBN's abundant digital media resources and decades of experience in attracting readers could help Alibaba better appeal to and serve users," Zhang said. "The deal shows that Alibaba is now fully present in content production and data analysis."
Alibaba said the deal would "raise the bar on enterprise efficiency in China" and is "enhancing digital and traditional media convergence". With the investment, CBN will build new products to meet the growing demand for financial information and develop a mobile application providing financial information.
CBN's financial information service will be added to the mobile app of Alibaba's online marketplace Taobao and its mobile payment platform Alipay.
"By leveraging its edge in massive e-commerce data resources as well as cloud computing and data mining technologies, Alibaba will become an important participant of the digital media industry and finally propel industry transformation," Zhang said.
Traditional media in China are feeling the chill as the government introduces market competition and formats such as micro blogs and other online outlets erode readership.
Alibaba said it chose a Shanghai company because the city is the biggest financial hub in the country. CBN has been making inroads in big data business with its subsidiary Shanghai Big Data, which offers financial data services to media outlets.