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CORRECTED-China's iQIYI to develop regional stars for Southeast Asia push

(Corrects Yang’s title in the third paragraph and adds company comment and detail in 10th and 11th paragraphs)

SINGAPORE, March 17 (Reuters) - Chinese online video platform iQIYI plans to launch a talent agency in Southeast Asia to cultivate its own entertainers as it pushes to become Asia’s dominant streaming platform, a senior executive told Reuters.

The company, the parent of which is search engine giant Baidu, announced on Wednesday that it is partnering with Singapore entertainment group G.H.Y Culture & Media to start a talent management agency to identify and train talent in the region of 655 million and showcase them in its productions.

The move, which comes three months after the streaming platform installed its international headquarters in Singapore, is meant to launch young stars that would be popular with both Chinese and Southeast Asian audiences, said Yang Xianghua, president of membership and overseas business.

“We’re already growing fast, with Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, and Singapore as our highest growing markets,” he said. “We saw 12 times the user growth for the region in 2020.”

Simultaneously, Yang said that iQIYI’s Southeast Asian productions are seeing strong viewership numbers in China.

“Our goal is to be an Asian content platform,” he said, adding there were plans for more original Southeast Asian TV shows and movies, with teams in South Korea and Japan working on developing original dramas and anime respectively.

A show on the agency’s search for Southeast Asian talent will also be aired.

With its young online population, Southeast Asia is becoming the newest battleground for streaming platforms, with video subscription revenue set to grow fivefold by 2025, according to a study by Google, Temasek Holdings and Bain & Co.

Other companies also have plans to expand in Southeast Asia. Disney+ launched in late 2020 in Indonesia and Singapore, Netflix has ramped up subscription-only services for the region and Chinese tech giant Tencent’s WeTV bought the assets of Malaysian streaming platform Iflix in June.

Tencent has won significant market share from iQIYI in China, but the two are collaborating on international productions. A company spokeswoman said that WeTV is now airing an QIYI-produced Chinese variety show.

The show features K-pop rapper and Thai national Lisa, of hit band Blackpink, the type of regional star that iQIYI now hopes to nurture.

Yang said iQIYI was also in talks with Singapore and Malaysian authorities to bring Chinese stars to the region.

Southeast Asia is one of the heaviest consumers of Chinese entertainment content outside China, but iQIYI is also intensifying efforts in North America and the Middle East.

“In North America, our target is Asian and Asian-American audiences, while in the Middle East we’re exploring the appetite for Asian content, but we see a big potential,” Yang said. (Editing by Jacqueline Wong and David Goodman )

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