Jack Ma is in talks to buy a controlling stake the South China Morning Post, extending their entertainment and media empire into unchartered waters.
No financial details have been released on the deal, though it’s understood that discussions have been ongoing for several months with the current majority stakeholder, Kerry Media, which is owned by Malaysian tycoon Robert Kuok.
It is also not yet clear whether the potential buyer is Alibaba or Jack Ma himself.
In an interview earlier this month with Bloomberg, Ma explained possible synergies between the tech giant and traditional media.
“We need media to help our small, medium sized companies to promote,” he said. “And by the way our advertisement dollars [are] huge,” he went on to say, noting that small businesses could contribute heavily to media outlets.
He also said that Alibaba’s massive data resources could help media to report in a more “accurate way”.
The deal marks the first Alibaba-affiliated investment in news media outside of China. The company paid $200 million for a 30% stake in China Business News in June this year, which has both TV and newspaper businesses under parent company Shanghai Media Group.
The latest deal is reminiscent of the 2013 Washington Post sale to Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.
For Ma and Alibaba, the South China Morning Post holds strategic potential. The newspaper is widely circulated throughout South Asia where Ma is looking to extend his business interests, it also reports heavily on China-side business and economic developments.
Alibaba has been expanding aggressively into the content and entertainment industry over the past two years.
In March 2014, Alibaba bought a controlling stake in ChinaVision Media Group, an entertainment and media company also listed in Hong Kong, before rebranding the entire acquisition under Alibaba Pictures Group. ChinaVision Media Group co-manages the distribution of one of Beijing’s largest local newspapers, the Beijing Times.
Alibaba has also made a trove of investments and partnerships in non-media entertainment content, including the recent acquisition of all remaining shares in video streaming company Youku Tudou.
Earlier this year Jack Ma clashed with the South China Morning Post over what he claimed was a misquote in an article. The paper quoted Ma as saying that the Chinese government reaction to the 1989 Tiananmen Square riots was the “most correct decision” at the time.
Ma claimed in a later statement that the quote was referring to his management of Alibaba, and was taken out of context by the South China Morning Post reporter causing a “terrible misunderstanding.”
Alibaba’s connection with the Chinese government will also be an intense discussion point should the company reach a deal to purchase the newspaper.
Out of necessity, Alibaba has maintained a good relationship with the the Chinese government on many fronts. However it’s a relationship that could be tested should Ma pursue the sale. The South China Morning Post is vocal on many issues that Chinese state media does not report in the interest of China’s ruling party.