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China gets its own Netflix-esque service via Alibaba

The e-commerce giant launches Tmall Box Office, pegged to be China's Netflix -- as the real Netflix struggles to expand into the country.


Netflix has voiced its desire to expand into China, but this week that tough task became even tougher as homegrown e-commerce giant Alibaba launched its Tmall Box Office video-streaming service.

According to Tech In Asia, TBO was rolled out Tuesday in an update to Alibaba's Smart TV operating system, with subscription models of 39 yuan ($6.10) per month or 365 yuan ($57.30) per year.

Netflix began its online streaming service back in 2007 and in recent years has been aggressively expanding abroad. In May Bloomberg reported that the company was looking to find a partner to help it enter into the Chinese market, but Alibaba's move doesn't bode well for its ambitions.

Even more so than intense competition from similar services like iQiyi, Youku Tudo and now TBO, the company's biggest hurdle is China's strict regulations and reluctance to offer a foreign business the necessary licenses.

In a January conference call, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings acknowledged that "we're exploring options. We need to get a license; that's not 100 percent clear that we'll able to do that." He added that the company hopes to make a "modest investment" in the Chinese market.

After leaping into much of Europe in 2012 and 2013, Netflix earlier this year became available in Australia and New Zealand. Plans have also been revealed for a 2015 expansion into Japan, Portugal, Spain and Italy.

Alibaba is most known in China for its widely used online store, which sells almost everything -- from electronics to beauty products to office supplies. It has its fingers in many pies though, one of which is an operating system it launched in 2011, through which TBO is accessed.