China’s government has asked Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. to dispose of its media assets, as officials grow more concerned about the technology giant’s sway over public opinion in the country, according to people familiar with the matter.
Discussions over the matter have been held since early this year after Chinese regulators reviewed a list of media assets owned by the Hangzhou-based company, whose mainstay business is online retail. Officials were appalled at how expansive Alibaba’s media interests have become and asked the company to come up with a plan to substantially curtail its media holdings, the people said. The government didn’t specify which assets would need to be unloaded.
Alibaba, founded by billionaire Jack Ma, has through the years assembled a formidable portfolio of media assets that span print, broadcast, digital, social media and advertising. Notable holdings include stakes in the Twitter -like Weibo platform and several popular Chinese digital and print news outlets, as well as the South China Morning Post, a leading English-language newspaper in Hong Kong. Several holdings are in U.S.-listed companies.
The total value of Alibaba’s media assets couldn’t be obtained. Holdings in publicly listed companies had a combined market value of more than $8 billion as of before the U.S. stock market opened on Monday, according to a Wall Street Journal’s tally. That includes a roughly $3.5 billion stake in Weibo Corp. and a nearly $2.6 billion stake in Bilibili Inc., a video platform that is popular among younger Chinese people.
One of the most prominent acquisitions was the South China Morning Post, which traces its roots to the era of British colonial rule in Hong Kong. Alibaba has also set up joint ventures or partnerships with powerful state-run media like Xinhua News Agency and local government-run newspaper groups in Zhejiang and Sichuan provinces….[ ]