China's Alibaba Group taps smart TVs for online shopping

Alibaba's set-top box will launch in China in two to three months

Alibaba's CEO tries out the company's upcoming set-top box product.

Alibaba's CEO tries out the company's upcoming set-top box product.

Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba Group plans to enter the country's smart TV industry with a set-top box product for streamlining online shopping on big screen televisions.

The set-top box runs a Linux-based OS and can stream television shows and movies, and play games and music via a remote control or a user's own smartphone. What sets the device apart from some rival products, though, is its focus on online shopping. Accessing Alibaba's shopping services through the box, registered users can buy the products they view in two steps: confirming they want the product, and paying for it, said Yu Ce, vice president for Alibaba Group.

"This complete process will make the shopping very simple, and suitable for a large number of consumers, especially for older people, children, and people that use TVs," he said.

Products sold on the TVs, however, won't be the same as those typically offered on Alibaba's online shopping sites Taobao Marketplace and Tmall. Instead, the set-top box will initially feature discount deals on products from Alibaba's group-buying site Juhuasuan.

"These products when sold on the TV will easily find value," he said, adding, "It's not to say that the TV doesn't have any spending power. We just need to find a way appropriate for TVs and the remote control to make purchases."

Alibaba developed the box with Chinese online content provider Wasu Media. It will go on sale in two to three months under the name Wasu Rainbow. The companies have not yet announced its price.

This is not Alibaba's first foray into the market for devices. In 2011, it launched its own Linux-based mobile operating system as a way to bring its e-commerce services to the country's burgeoning smartphone market. However, so far it has failed to gain a major foothold in the mobile market.

With its latest device, Alibaba still has a chance to grow with the market, as smart TVs are only now starting to become popular in China. Chinese TV makers Changhong, Haier and Skyworth also plan on using Alibaba's smart TV OS in upcoming products, the e-commerce giant said. The company expects consumer demand for the products to grow quickly, becoming a major market for e-commerce users.

"In two or three years, China will enter the mobile Internet and smart TV age," Yu added. "Alibaba Group will not easily give up in these two areas."

Alibaba hopes all companies, including foreign Android device makers such as Samsung and Sony, will also get on board with its smart TV OS, Yu said.

"Our plan is to bring our Alibaba operating system to all corners. We won't disregard Samsung, Sony, or those other international companies," he added.

However, there is a risk that other manufacturers will shy away from Alibaba's software. Last year, the company's mobile operating system came into conflict with Google over accusations its OS was in fact another version of Android. Alibaba has denied the claim, but the dispute has threatened to drive away major Android vendors from using its OS.

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