When will streaming video in China make money?


Youku (NYSE: YOKU) is at it again.

China’s leading video-streaming website is inking a deal with Comcast‘s (Nasdaq: CMCSK) (Nasdaq: CMCSA) NBCUniversal. The multi-year agreement will introduce many of the studio’s biggest theatrical blockbusters — including the Jurassic Park and The Mummy franchises — to the pay-to-stream Youku Premium platform.

NBCUniversal will also offer up some of its more recent releases including Battleship and The Lorax after the newer movies complete their theatrical releases in China.

NBCUniversal isn’t the first studio to broker a Youku Premium deal. Time Warner (NYSE: TWX) helped the Chinese site roll out its premium streaming platform last year. However, while Youku’s market cap popped US$860 million higher after the Time Warner news, investors have largely ignored the press releases of subsequent studios that have signed up with Youku Premium.

Youku shares may have opened higher on this news, but an hour into the trading day those gains were gone.

Investors have a right to be jaded. Youku’s stock may have peaked at nearly US$70 last year — months after its ballyhooed IPO — but it has gone on to shed more than two-thirds of its value. Even the obvious synergies of acquiring meaty rival Tudou earlier this year can’t seem to get the stock moving again.

If you want to know what’s holding back Youku, just check out the company’s bottom line. Analysts don’t see Youku turning a profit until next year, but cynicism is warranted here. Those same analysts have overestimated the company’s profit potential for three consecutive quarters.

Streaming video is a hard sell for advertisers in our more advanced online advertising market, so you can imagine the monetisation challenges in China. Ad-supported clips that make the most of Youku’s content aren’t very lucrative, and getting folks to pay real money through Youku Premium given China’s rampant video piracy is easier said than done.

Sohu.com‘s (Nasdaq: SOHU) margins have been slammed since throwing weight behind its fledgling video offering, but it’s more than making up for those deficits through its lucrative online gaming and portal units. Youku has all of its eggs in its digital video library.

The upside here is that NBCUniversal’s arrival validates Youku Premium as a platform. This is the fifth major U.S. studio to broker a licensing deal with the popular Chinese company. However, until we see folks paying enough to make the fallen dot-com darling profitable, it’s best to treat Youku as the risky wager that it has become.

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A version of this article, written by Rick Aristotle Munarriz, originally appeared on fool.com

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