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[BEIJING/HONG KONG] Netflix Inc rose above US$600 a share for the first time after it was reported to be in talks with a Chinese media company backed by Jack Ma and other possible partners as it seeks entry into China's US$5.9 billion online video market.
Netflix has held discussions with companies including Wasu Media Holding Co, according to people with knowledge of the matter, who asked not to be identified because the talks are private. Netflix plans "to be nearly global by the end of 2016," Anne Marie Squeo, a spokeswoman, said in response to questions about a possible China partnership.
Shares of Netflix, based in Los Gatos, California, climbed 4.5 per cent to US$613.02 at 12:28 pm in New York and rose as high as US$616.59. Wasu's Shenzhen-traded shares closed little changed at 56.59 yuan, recouping an earlier drop of as much as 10 percent.
Entering China would let Netflix, the broadcaster of "House of Cards" and "Orange Is the New Black" take advantage of what's forecast to be explosive growth in online TV in the nation of 1.4 billion people. The market is estimated to almost triple to 90 billion yuan by 2018, according to Shanghai- based Internet consultant IResearch.
A local partnership would be essential given the Chinese government's strict controls over licensing for online content. Netflix wants a partner that has licences for content on all devices - including mobile phones, computers and set-top boxes, according to the people. China's State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television has given Internet TV licenses to seven companies, including Wasu.
Wasu didn't respond to an e-mail seeking comment. Two phone calls to Wasu's general line weren't answered.
Netflix is investing heavily in original programming to keep the US business growing and support international expansion.
"China is too big to have an asterisk next to it," Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos said Friday in Cannes, France. "There are a lot of operating constraints in China that are different to anywhere else. We don't have any operating partners anywhere else in the world, so that would be a new skill for us too."
Mr Sarandos, speaking to film buyers, executives and producers, didn't comment on specific companies.
"We are also aware that there are unique operating models we've not worked in before, we've not acquired companies, we've not worked with partners before in any of our territories," Mr Sarandos said. "If that's the cost of doing business in China we will figure that out."
For the first time, the Cannes Film Festival is hosting a three-day China Summit to help film professionals in that country's market.
Netflix would need to sort out content censorship regulations with Chinese authorities. Starting this April, new episodes of foreign programs - including "Mad Men" and "The Simpsons" - can't be shown until after the shows' seasons have ended, according to a government notice.
Episodes need to handed in to censors for approval, and content deemed violent, sexual or offensive to the ruling Communist Party can be cut, according to notices.
Wasu, one of the first companies in China to receive an Internet TV license from the government, has been working with Mr Ma's Alibaba Group Holding Ltd to produce set-top boxes since 2013. Wasu operates cable TV and broadband networks in Hangzhou, where Alibaba is based.
Wasu said in April last year it would sell a 20 per cent stake to Alibaba Chairman Ma and fellow billionaire Shi Yuzhu.