Alibaba wants to leave media company after Beijing investigation

(Bloomberg) — Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. wants to sell its entire stake in a local television network after the Chinese government tightens oversight of the media and technology industry.

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An investment arm of Alibaba plans to sell its 5.01% stake in Mango Excellent Media Co., a TV shopping and entertainment network in central Hunan province, Mango said in a filing late Thursday. The e-commerce giant, which made the purchase just nine months ago, is asking for an exemption from a one-year lock-up agreement, the filing showed.

An Alibaba representative was not immediately available for comment.

Beijing wants billionaire Jack Ma’s company to sell some of its media assets, including the South China Morning Post, amid growing concerns about its influence on public opinion in China, Bloomberg reported earlier this year. The tech giant had been a prime target in an extensive gig that has expanded from e-commerce and fintech to data security, after-school education, gaming and now a celebrity fan culture.

“This could be the start,” said Feng Chucheng, a political analyst at Plenum consulting firm. “Beijing is very concerned about big business’ control of the media, as they would also use their control for ‘illegitimate’ interests or manipulation of public opinion.”

While the filing did not reveal the proposed sale price or the potential buyers, Mango’s shares have fallen about 40% since Alibaba’s offer to invest in the media company last year. The larger company had paid 6.2 billion yuan ($960 million) for the 5% stake, which was valued at about $600 million based on Mango’s market valuation as of Thursday’s close.

The Hangzhou-based giant’s stock has more than halved since hitting an all-time high last October after the first public offering from affiliate Ant Group Co. was scrapped and antitrust authorities launched an investigation into the e-commerce company, culminating in a record $2.8 billion fine.

Ma and Alibaba have quietly built an extensive portfolio of media assets over the years, spanning BuzzFeed-like online outlets, newspapers, television production companies, social media and advertising assets. Alibaba has a large stake in the Twitter-like Weibo and Youku, one of China’s largest streaming services, as well as other online and print news outlets, including the SCMP, the leading English-language newspaper in Hong Kong.

“Under the hood of Alibaba, there are several high-profile media companies, as well as many investments in media companies,” said Plenum’s Feng. “Alibaba could potentially divest them all.”

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