Alibaba Group Holding Ltd (NYSE:BABA) has apparently sunk $50 million into Peel, a company that makes entertainment apps. More specifically, the startup creates tablet and smartphone apps that transform them into remote controls, thus replacing traditional TV remotes.
Alibaba looks outside its core focus
Re/code reports that Peel’s remote control app is preloaded onto a number of Android devices made by Samsung and HTC. It uses infrared technology, and the Android version works with nearly any TV, streaming video box or cable box. However, the iOS version only works with DirecTV and Dish Network boxes.
Alibaba had already invested in Peel once, putting $5 million into an early venture funding round. That round totaled $20 million and was held last year. The Chinese online retailer apparently invested the additional $50 million this past spring, but Peel waited to reveal the investment until after Alibaba held its initial public offering.
Why Alibaba likes Peel
Peel’s CEO said Alibaba particularly likes that 96 million people have its remote control app installed on their devices. He also said that Alibaba isn’t pressuring them to integrate any of its shopping features into their app.
In addition, the executive said Alibaba is acting more like a venture capitalist firm by investing money into companies and then letting them go about their business. He called Alibaba “very patient investors.”
What’s next for Peel?
He did not entirely dismiss the idea that they might be able to help Alibaba another way, however. He said it’s possible that one day, the data they collect on which TV shows people are watching could be of value to sellers or advertisers on Alibaba’s marketplaces.
Peel currently charges TV networks for promotions of their shows on the app, which shows TV listings and times for the shows. CEO Thiru Arunachalam said they expect to see approximately $8 million in revenue this year and $20 million in revenue next year.
He also said it’s possible that they will make a universal remote control app that controls other connected devices in the home, like lights and air conditioners.