Alibaba Offers Smart TV Operating System to Lure More Users

Alibaba Group Holding Ltd., China’s largest e-commerce company, has designed a smart television operating system and set-top box to win more users by offering services on a wider spectrum of devices.

Alibaba’s system will run a set-top box developed in collaboration with Wasu Media Holding Co. that will link TVs to the Internet, Yu Ce, vice president of Alibaba, said at a press conference in Beijing yesterday. Other manufacturers will also incorporate the system, which will include online shopping, and integrate its payment system Alipay in their TVs, Yu said.

Billionaire chairman Jack Ma has expanded lending, secured financing and made acquisitions as Alibaba’s sales surge from services connecting businesses to each other and consumers. The company’s new foray, which aims to combine TV with online shopping, comes as consumers’ living rooms are turning into a major battleground for technology companies this year.

“TVs in the future will not only play videos but also shoulder responsibilities of entertainment and gaming,” said Alex Wang Tingting, a Beijing-based analyst at Internet consulting group iResearch. “This will help Alibaba gain a new access point for more users.”

The set-top box is called the Wasu Rainbow and is planned for release around September, Wasu President Li Yiqing said at the press conference. The device will be manufactured by a third party that has yet to be determined, Li said. She declined to comment on the price.

Smart TVs

Gartner Inc. projects that about 85 percent of flat-panel TVs will be Internet-connected smart TVs by 2016. Global production of flat-panel smart TVs will increase to 198 million in 2016 from 69 million in 2012, the Stamford, Connecticut-based market researcher estimates.

Samsung Electronics Co., the world’s largest television maker, acquired Boxee Inc. this month to add connected TV set-top boxes that can record broadcasts and stream online video. Microsoft Corp. and Sony Corp. are set to release new video-game consoles that emphasize features for streaming and downloading entertainment content.

Many Chinese companies including Lenovo Group Ltd., the world’s second-biggest maker of personal computers, are also expanding to add production of smart TVs. Lenovo said last year it will begin sales of so-called smart televisions that can access the Internet in nine Chinese cities.