(Updated to add details on Alibaba’s tie up with Skyworth to launch Smart TVs in October)
Alibaba Group has started selling television set-top boxes powered by its smart TV operating system on its group buying platform, Juhuasuan, in an ambitious move to push online shopping into the living rooms of millions of Chinese.
Alibaba’s plan to team up with Internet TV services provider Wasu Media to make set-top boxes was announced in late July. Since then, domestic smartphone player Xiaomi and Baidu, China’s largest search engine, have announced similar plans to roll out Internet-enabled TVs. On Tuesday, Alibaba and domestic television manufacturer Skyworth announced that they will start selling three TV models powered by Alibaba’s operating system in October.
China’s desire for greater competition and innovation in telecommunications through the convergence of telephone and cable TV networks and the Internet is well documented. Since 2010, various Chinese legislators, including China’s former Premier Wen Jiabao, have been pushing for a “triple play” which would create telecommunications regulations to foster network convergence.
In theory, this would allow former monopoly players such as telephone and cable companies to offer services in other sectors, increasing competition and improving the quality of services in the process. But the opening up of the telecoms industry has been slow to materialize due to inter-governmental squabbling, prompting China’s more progressive Internet companies to make tentative steps into other sectors on their own.
The Alibaba-powered set-top boxes, named Wasu Rainbow, will allow viewers to watch local and overseas television shows on demand, as well as shop from Alibaba’s Juhuasuan platform and pay bills using Alipay, Alibaba’s affiliated e-payment company.
Alibaba Group, already dominant in online shopping on PCs, has for several years been moving into mobile devices with its Taobao and Alipay suite of apps, as well as a mobile phone operating system that has yet to find much acceptance among consumers and mobile-phone makers.
By developing software to power Internet-enabled TV, Alibaba is trying to extend its e-commerce ecosystem even further– into living rooms, thus reaching older Chinese consumers who are generally unaccustomed to shopping online.
“The core functionalities of the Alibaba Smart TV OS is that it solves the problem of e-payment and brings together television and online shopping into a practical and direct channel,” said Yu Ce, vice president of Alibaba Group, in a prepared statement. “This allows online shopping to no longer be just the domain of young people, but for different demographics who can now relish the joy of online shopping through their televisions.”
The two Skyworth television models, sized at 55 inches and 42 inches are both capable of handling 3D video. They will be sold at RMB4999 and RMB2999 respectively. A 2D version of the 42 inch TV will be sold at RMB 1999.
On Monday, the Wasu set-top boxes started selling on Juhuasuan for 298 yuan. Customers will be eligible to receive rebates of 50 yuan if they pay through their Alipay accounts. In some provinces, buyers will also receive 50 yuan worth of Tmall online supermarket vouchers.
The boxes at first will be available only in black, with other colors becoming available later. Made by Foxconn, the world’s largest OEM electronics manufacturer, the box has a 1.5GHz ARM-based dual-core processor, with 1GB of RAM, 4GB of storage space and the ability to support high-definition video.