This week’s podcast is about my visit to iQIYI. And what I think is coming next for video entertainment under major digital disruption.
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- Innovation / Creative Assets. This is any time, effort or money spent developing intellectual property. This includes content creation, such as entertainment and artistic originals. And it includes other types of content such as mapping and user generated content. But it can also include R&D in new product development, improved customer interfaces and improved user experiences (whether digital or physical). The term “innovation capital” is a good description of these types of intangible assets, which we see frequently in digital businesses.
- Digital and Analytics Assets. This is any time, effort or money spent developing, maintaining, and advancing digital assets and capabilities. This includes software, data warehouses, digital infrastructure, and other digital and data capabilities. This includes pretty much everything in the digital operating basics. It also includes CRM software, ecommerce interfaces, data analytics models and algorithms and so on. I like that they separated this as a category from intellectual property and content assets. The title “digital and analytics capital” is great.
- Human and Relational Assets. This has two sub-types. This is any time, effort or money spent on:
- Building individual or organizational skills through training within an organization. So, this is your talent strategy – which includes specialist skills and capabilities but also social and emotional skills. This also includes relations and interactions within organizations, such as organizational and managerial capabilities. You can put adaptability and resilience here.
- Building ecosystems and networks external the organization is also important. This is relationships and partnerships with suppliers, complements and data partners. This is where Digital Operating Basics 4 as well as Consumption Ecosystems would go.
- Brand Assets. This is any time, effort or money spent to maintain or increase brand equity. This is an important category, but the name is not great. Relationships with current and potential customers is an important intangible asset (often called brand equity). This can include capabilities that build and maintain these relationships – such as loyalty programs, promotions, and fan clubs. Customer service and churn and retention initiatives are also very important.
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From the Concept Library, concepts for this article are:
- 4 Intangible Assets
- Audience-builder platforms
- Generative AI
From the Company Library, companies for this article are:
Welcome, welcome everybody. My name is Jeff Towson and this is the Tech Strategy Podcast where we analyze the best digital businesses of the US, China and Asia. And the topic for today, what’s next for iQiyi and really video entertainment, which is, you know, video entertainment, TV shows, movies, that sort of thing. It tends to be the fastest moving frontier of digital. because it’s essentially a digital good with no regulations. And also now that generative AI has really landed, well, I mean, it’s hitting creative content more than anywhere else. So yeah, a lot going on with that. And I recently went to visit iQiyi in Beijing. iQiyi, which I’ll talk about, is the leading TV movie sort of streaming service of China. And I went and visited them about a month or so ago. So I wanna talk about sort of what I learned and what I think’s coming next for them. And I think that applies broadly to a lot of video content beyond just IGE, although they’re a pretty cool company to think about. So that will be the topic for today. Let’s see. I guess one thing from last week, last week I talked about threads versus Twitter and. I actually forgot to kind of say something, which I wrote within the show notes and I sent out, but I don’t think I said it on the podcast. When you do a strategy breakdown, which is kind of what I did for that, that’s always question number two. Question number one is always product market fit and engagement. None of this strategy stuff that I talk about so much, None of it matters if you’re not selling your product or you’re not sort of past that initial phase. And so that was kind of question number one for Twitter versus threads was, are they going to get product market fit? Are they in a significant engagement? Question number two, which is kind of the one I answered, is, OK, who’s going to win in that case? And I think that’s going to be threads if they can get the engagement. It’s not clear that they can. They came out pretty strong, got a lot of downloads in the first couple of days. Everyone said, oh my God. Then the downloads slowed down. Everyone said again, oh my God. I don’t think we really know yet, that whole first question. You know, when WeChat was launched, you know, it didn’t get any traction for about four to six months. I mean, it was just sort of struggling along, limping along before it took off. So we don’t really know the question number one answer. Is this thing gonna get product market fit? Is it gonna get significant users and engagement? And engagement’s more important than users. If it does, then I think it’s gonna win. I think it’s well positioned to win. If it doesn’t, then all the strategy stuff doesn’t matter. Anyways, so anyways, I should have made that a little bit more clear, but anyways, it’s fun. I’m gonna keep an eye on it. We’ll see what’s what. What else? I’m actually in Bucharest right now. I’m traveling around a bit. I’m due in Paris in about eight or nine days. So I’m basically working from Eastern Europe. I think I’ve got one more city. I’ll probably go to Sofia, Bulgaria, in a couple of days. And then I’m pretty much done and I’m off to Paris. So it’s been fun. I’m getting a little tired. Anyways, okay. Nothing else going on. Disclaimer, standard disclaimer, nothing in this podcast or my writing website is investment advice. The numbers and information from me and Inegis may be incorrect. The views and opinions expressed may no longer be relevant or accurate. Overall, investing is risky. This is not investment, legal or tax advice. Do your own research. And with that, let’s get into the content. Now in terms of concepts for today, I think there’s really one that matters, which is for intangible assets. I don’t know, about 30 or 40 podcasts ago, I summarized a framework by McKinsey, which talks about looking at businesses, especially digital businesses, as basically in terms of their intangible assets, the same way you might look at a shoe company or a factory in terms of its physical tangible assets. And they had a very good framework for that, which I’ll put the link in the show notes. Basically, if you were gonna take the balance sheet of a digital company, it’s almost completely useless because the balance sheet is broken down by mostly physical assets like inventory and process, land, factories, but the key intangible assets like databases, intellectual property, it’s… It’s not really listed at all. If you were gonna break down the balance sheet properly, the framework I would use is this sort of four buckets for intangible assets. I think it’s a good way to see what’s really going on with digital businesses. And that’s gonna be relevant because entertainment, video, TV show, movies, I mean, these are all intangible assets of which one type would be intellectual property. You know, if you make a Mickey Mouse movie, you get the intellectual property for the movie, but you also get the characters, you might get the songs, and a lot of Disney’s value has come from its sort of library of intellectual property. Well, there’s a broader definition of that than just IP. I think the intangible assets need to be thought of that way. So that’s kind of the key idea for today. If you want to know more about that, just go to the link in the show notes. I talked a lot about it. I find it a very helpful framework. Okay. So, and then also the, I guess the concept for today would be generative AI, but that’s not really a concept. It’s just sort of a topic. All right, so let’s talk about iQiyi. Now, you know, I took a small group out to iQiyi, which is based in Beijing. It’s kind of in the Northeast of Beijing. For those of you familiar in the Chaoyang, Sanlitun area, it’s really not too far down from Sanlitun. It’s actually where the LinkedIn office is as well. There aren’t that many tech companies up in that part of Beijing. But it’s so, you know, it’s an interesting neighborhood. And you know, you show up at a company like iQiyi and what always strikes me when I go to entertainment companies, and I visited like Disney in China and a couple others, and they’re such different organizations. I mean, it’s like you walk in creative vibe almost immediately. You know, everybody’s desk is covered with like toys and pictures and you know, there’s movie pictures and paint, you know, prints all over the walls and it’s kind of colorful and you know, nobody has an MBA, everyone’s got like an arts and design degree or an animation degree or an art, you know. So it just feels very, very different and I… I find it interesting, but I also find myself out of place because whenever you start talking about a business problem, the language is totally different. Everyone’s talking about creativity and storytelling and you know, visuals. And I’m trying to talk in terms of strategy and capabilities and it’s really, doesn’t go over very well. So anyways, I arrived, I-chi-i, get that feeling almost immediately. I got a pretty cool tour of, you know, they have an exhibition and then end up talking with a couple executives and doing some interviews, which I’ll be writing up more of that, specifically regarding to the data side of the business as opposed to the creative side. And out of that, I mean, a couple things really jumped out, but first of all, a quick second disclaimer, none of this is information from IGE, which is a public company, by the way. So this is not anything anyone said. This is not any insight, anything. This is sort of my strategy takeaways speaking only for myself and no one else. So there’s not a scrap of information gathered there that is mentioned here, mainly just the public filings and my own sort of strategy thoughts. Anyways, okay, so. So do I, couple of my conclusions. Number one. The digital landscape is changing entertainment very, very quickly. Generative AI is supercharging it. ICHEE is very well positioned in terms of entertainment companies, um, to ride these, these waves. It doesn’t mean everything’s going to be smooth sailing at all, but I think they’re in a better position than most entertainment companies. And a couple of reasons for that. One is they have deep expertise in both the creative entertainment side and in the tech side. Let me give you some basics about iQiyi. They are the market leader for video entertainment in China. when you’re talking about movies and television shows. We could say video and entertainment include short videos. Well, that would be a little bit different. But if you kind of break it down by video, TV, and that sort of thing, you’re probably talking 20 to 30% of the market, depending how you cut it up. And you could also talk about things like sports, which would be a different category, short video, billy billy. There’s a lot of ways you can cut that up. But… By most metrics, they are a market leader when it comes to TV shows and movies and that sort of thing. On that side of the business, they’re really kind of a lot like HBO. People often say they’re like Netflix plus YouTube, which is, okay, they have an audience builder platform, which like YouTube, connects content creators with viewers. Network effects. economies of scale, all the things we like about YouTube. And most of that content would then be user-generated content as opposed to more professional-generated content, although they have that as well. So that, I mean, that’s a pretty standard picture YouTube-like, and they have two competitors in this regard in China, which would be Tudou, which is part of Alibaba, and then Tencent Video, which is part of Tencent. You could also consider companies like ByteDance and Billy becoming more like competitors as they move from short form to longer form video, which ByteDance is doing. Okay, so that’s sort of one side of the business. And then you move to the other side, which is really, in my opinion, the majority of their business. That’s when you get something like HBO. So it’s a streaming service, like Netflix, but for those of you who aren’t familiar, HBO is generally considered higher quality content. Much better shows and long before streaming became a thing, they were kind of the quality movie channel on your television. So if you’re competing in terms of original programming, this would be sort of going up to the premium level. And all of these companies, Tudou, Tencent Video, and iQiyi, I mean, I think they all discovered early on that the only way they could differentiate themselves from each other, but also from smaller competitors, is original programming. So they’ve all sort of invested heavily in to that for a long time. iQiyi does a lot of historical dramas, does a lot of television drama. but it also has sort of cultural trendy type talk, like singing competitions. And they try and stay sort of on the frontier of culture. And I’ll explain why they do that. So that business model, not terribly different than say Tencent Video or Tudou. Now, the economics of this space have been fairly difficult for a long time. And there’s an important lesson in that. You can have a great service that people love, product market fit. You can have a powerful business model, audience builder platform with network effects. The market can consolidate to two or three players that really do dominate, Tencent, Tudou, iQiyi. And it doesn’t mean you’re gonna make money. You can dominate a business with not awesome economics. And you know, a lot of that is beyond your control. So if you are Uber, you know, one of your problems is people just cost what they cost if you’re gonna have people driving cars. And the insurance and gas just cost what it costs and you can’t really change that. So you have a sort of a cost structure that has a floor, you can’t go below it. And then it also turns out you have a pricing ceiling. because if you keep trying to increase your prices at a certain point, people just take public transportation, which is a reasonable substitute. So sometimes the economics, you get trapped in there. And that kind of happened for a long time with this sort of entertainment in China because Chinese consumers for the last 10 years, they’ve been rising in wealth slowly, but consistently. There was no tradition of paying for videos and TV shows and movies. You always got those for free. You could get DVDs for free, pretty much. You could watch it online for free. There was a real history of consumers expecting this stuff to be free. So when you try and get them to become subscribers, there was a lot of difficulty there. You kind of had to wait for consumers to keep moving up in terms of wealth. And even when you do subscriptions, you can’t charge that much. So that’s sort of, you have a problem on the revenue side. You also have a problem with digital advertising, which for a long time in China was not really very big. I mean, this is one of the reasons why Tencent started doing video games, not based on advertising and not based on selling games, but instead based on micro purchases like buy a better suit of armor for your character. Everyone was trying to get around these problems, but there weren’t really any ways to do that in television. So advertising was not that big for a long time. So those things have improved over time finally. And now they have basically three sources of revenue. They have subscriptions of which they have about 120 million in the first quarter of this year. They have digital advertising that’s getting better and better, and then they have IP monetization, which is, you know, merch. If you’ve created good characters, you can, you know, if you have Ironman, you can cut a deal with Gillette to make Ironman razors, things like that. So you have sort of three mechanisms, and slowly over time, ICHEE finally got to operating profitability. For 2022, these are all public numbers. They had about $4 billion US in revenue. And it’s been around that level for the last couple of years. COVID kind of knocked things a bit because of production of films and such. So about 4 billion, they only reached really profitability at the gross margin level in 2020. And that has a lot to do with the cost of original content production. whether you’re doing it in-house or licensing or whatever. So they kind of hit gross margin break even in 2020 and now in 2022, they finally hit operating profit break even and slightly positive. So it’s been a long, hard sort of slog, but they’re well positioned in a business that has had difficult economics, but is getting better slowly. Now we’ll see how well it does over years. And also you have to kind of put bite dance in that equation too, because they took a lot of attention when short video took off. But that phenomenon is probably stable at this point. Okay, so that’s sort of background. So point number one is, look, they’re fairly well set up to deal with digital change and generative AI, because they have sort of two almost different, well, they are different business units pretty much. I mean, they have their tech platform, which is like YouTube, and then they have their HBO-like business. They have a bunch of software engineers on one side, and they have a bunch of creative people who like to make TV shows on the other. So they’ve got both the sort of creative capability, and they’ve got the tech capability. Okay. Against that strategy, against that, I expect them to continue their current sort of focus on… what they would describe as high value hours, that if we’re gonna get people to watch our screens, we want those to be high value hours, which means we want people who have a willingness to pay watching as opposed to having huge numbers of people who watch our hours, but they have low willingness to pay. And that doesn’t just mean they might subscribe, although they want that. It also means if they see advertisements for things they like, they would buy those. So there’d be more valuable to advertisers. And then also, you know, they might go buy merchandise because they really like, I don’t know, Game of Thrones or whatever. So you want that sort of willingness to pay. But even more than that, I think it’s a willingness to engage. You don’t want them to be, this is one of the reasons I like the company Garena, which is in Southeast Asia, which does video games, because they did video games very, focused on multiplayer interactive games. They went for the most interactive players. So it’s not someone just sitting by themselves playing some driving game all by themselves. No, this is multiplayer, World of Warcraft. You’re in there with your friends. They wanted to maximize interaction and engagement. One, that gets you better retention. Two, It gets you more data so you know what people like, which is helpful. So anyways, this is kind of the same idea. They want willingness to pay. They want a willingness to engage. They want people who are going to tell friends about the TV show that they really like, that are going to buy the hats for this particular show, that talk about it, that see clips and share them with people. Those people tend to be. get better retention, you get brand loyalty, they become fans, super fans, fanboys, they buy merchandise. So it’s not just about willingness to pay, which has a lot to do with earning power, but it’s that whole dimension. And so you can kind of see when you put their HBO-like strategy, that would be a reasonable group to go after. So that would be sort of point number two. I expect them to continue with their sort of current strategy of mostly HBO with somewhat of a YouTube focused on this sort of premium, higher end, willing to pay type consumer. And that can play out in a lot of ways. It’s not so simple as, hey, let’s just make really good shows. It has to do with staying sort of on the cultural frontier. What are people talking about right now? Are we sort of creating culture? and setting the standard, are we in the zeitgeist? So, you know, that means you’re gonna be studying all the time, what are people following right now? So it’s not just a matter of, hey, we’ve gotta get the people who have higher disposable income, it’s a more subtle question than that. But anyways, that would be point number two. Okay, that said, let’s sort of talk about the digital stuff. Now, what I think we’re gonna see is I think we are gonna see sort of a fairly big expansion. from the idea of intellectual property to a fairly significant range of intangible assets. Let’s say intangible digital assets. Now, as mentioned, video entertainment has always been about the creation of intellectual property, which is a type of intangible asset. Walt Disney creates Mickey Mouse, he becomes an asset. has an asset, it has increased in value, they could sell it today. It has a fan base, although I don’t know if people care that much for Mickey, but maybe they do. It can be reused at will in new movies or TV shows or whatever they want, they can just go into their library of characters and pull them out. It can be used in merchandise, it can be put on hats, it can be put into video games, you can have it at theme parks. You know, as an asset, turns out Mickey Mouse is a pretty good thing. I think Iron Man is better, but that’s OK. OK, so as you create all these television shows and movies, you start to create a library of intellectual property. And what I think is going to happen is we are going to start to see a library of digital assets, let’s say intangible assets that is far more than just. characters and IP. And the two kind of concepts that I’ve been thinking about a lot are what happens when the production of content, the production of entertainment, video, TV, movies, what happens when the production becomes virtual and all these companies start to assemble large libraries of digital assets that are used in virtual production. So forget the idea of we have Mickey Mouse or Iron Man, so let’s put this person into another Iron Man movie or make a cameo in a whatever movie. No, the production now itself is virtual, which means it’s happening in a computer. Maybe there’s still cameras, but maybe those are growing away. And the assets we’re gonna deploy are not just these famous characters, it’s everything. Every secondary actor, every extra that we use in a film, we’re gonna digitize that person, put them in the library, they’ll have to sign a form if they wanna be an extra in the backgrounds of the Friends reunion. They’re there. The furniture in the Friends show, that’s all digitized, scanned in. The sets. digitized, scanned, and it doesn’t have to be a famous well-known set, it can be every set ever used. It can be every character, it can be every extra, all of it. That all goes into a massive digital library that then virtual production can use to create more films, more TV shows at will, or again, those could be licensed or rented out to other content creators. Now let’s assume they’re not gonna rent Iron Man, but if you need extras for your animated show, and iQiyi has a library of 15,000 of them that you can use at will, and there’s nice APIs where they can feed right into your creative process, which is gonna be on a laptop or something. So this idea of digital assets becoming far more than intellectual property. And this is where we get to, and I’ve been thinking about that a lot, like virtual production based on libraries of digital assets. And what does that look like? And for those of you who are following in Hollywood, they all went on strike this last week, all the actors. And yeah, that was a good idea, because I think in five years, they’re probably gonna have no ability to go on strike. I mean, they have to lock this in now, where if I’m an extra on Friends, not a famous actor, but some third rate person in the back, you can’t just scan me in and I sign away the rights to everything forever. You have to let those people in on some of the financing. And that’s, I think, what they’re fighting for, which is smart. Oh, and here’s, so if we look at the world like that, then I think this McKinsey framework is particularly helpful. And… They basically had four types. They basically said digital businesses, which is what this sounds like, have four different types of intangible assets. They have innovation and creative assets. Some of this language is mine. I’ve changed their language a little bit. But that’s basically intellectual property. That’s anything that’s an artistic original. That’s entertainment. So that’s kind of a lot of what we’re talking about. But it doesn’t just have to be the characters and the sets and the production. It can be the user generated content that is being uploaded onto something like IG or YouTube. It can be the customer interfaces that people watch this. They watch the show on their screen, on their computer. It can be the user interface that content creators are using to create their stuff. So anything that is… provided that enable sort of creativity or innovation, we’d put that in category one, innovation and creative assets. Second category is digital and analytic assets. This would be your software, your data warehouses, your digital infrastructure, your data capabilities. Okay, not innovation, not creativity. This is more like the architecture that everything sits on. Again, you could license these to others. If you’ve got really good software, for CRM or for e-commerce, you could easily license or rent those to another production house that’s using your assets. There’s a third one about internal organization, how your people work together and how they work with others, sort of organizational assets, I’m not gonna go through that. And then the last one would be brand assets. This is your relationship to your current customers. If you have high engagement, with your customers because you are known as the HBO and there’s a lot of interaction and engagement, that interaction becomes its own asset. Some people call that brand equity, I don’t really find that helps. So all of this starts, yes, there’s intangible assets related to intellectual property, characters, sets. There’s intangible assets related to production in general, sets. extras, whatever. There’s intangible assets related to the digital architecture, to distribution, to marketing, to all of that. That all looks to me more and more like one big library. And I think certain companies are going to move aggressively against this. I think iQIYI is one of them. I think Netflix and Disney are also going to go after this because they have kind of the tech depth to do this. I think a lot of smaller Hollywood studios are not going to have much ability to do this. So that’s sort of a third point. One last point. And now this one’s a guess. So I don’t have any information, indication, nothing. I suspect, I won’t even say it’s a guess. I would recommend, if I was advising IG, what I would recommend is they take their tech and their creative capabilities and they externalize them. and offer them as a service to other content creators. And we’ve seen this strategy over and over and over, right? Like Amazon builds all its servers and IT capabilities that are used to support its e-commerce business and then it turns around and externalizes those as a service and that becomes AWS. Well, if you accept, and here we’ll get to generative AI. If generative AI is going to democratize the creation of high quality video entertainment, which I think is gonna happen for sure. We can already see high quality animated shorts being made by single people on laptops with generative AI. So I think we’re gonna see television shows. I think we’re gonna see live action. I think we’re gonna see movies. I think a lot of people are gonna be able to make these types of TV shows and movies in the future, in the very near future actually. So what you do is in addition to doing your core in-house production, you also offer these capabilities as service. And then you sort of move into the picks and shovels business as opposed to being just in the mining business. I think that’s what, I mean, I would recommend that they should do that. I think that would get them ahead of the curve. I think it would be a good business. I think they would get economies of scale in their core capabilities. So if two people sitting in a warehouse in Seattle wanna make a live action Avengers type movie, they can just plug in to the Netflix, Amazon, iQiyi system and buy the services they need. They can buy the production services. They can buy the distribution services. They can buy parts of the digital assets in the library. Maybe they want extras. Maybe they wanna buy a famous character to use. You know, the whole suite of library fits into their virtual production. And a lot of their virtual production is using these services. So let’s call it content creation as a service. I think that would be a good strategy. And… We’ve already seen this exact strategy play out in video games. I mean, that’s literally what Epic Games does. If you’re a, you know, they have their own video games in-house, which are incredibly popular, right? They make a ton of money, but they also offer all of those services to smaller game developers where you can use their, you know, their Unreal Engine to create your shows. And it’s almost impossible to replicate. a gaming engine as a small company. You can buy various marketing services for them when you wanna release it. You can buy distribution from them, so you can release it on their platform. You can buy social media like services. So if people have characters and accounts already with Epic Games and all their social connections, those port immediately into your game. So you can basically sell this whole suite of services and you become an ecosystem. I think a couple of these major entertainment companies are gonna be able to do this playbook. That’s kind of what I’d recommend for IHE. That’s what I’d recommend for Netflix and Disney. And if they were smaller than that, I would tell them they should probably be very, very concerned. Anyways, that’s kind of my analysis of what’s going on. And I think that’s, I don’t know, we’ll see what happens. That’s kind of what I’d put a stake in the ground. But if you’re not familiar with the company, take a look at their, you know, they’re public so you can pull their numbers. They’ve got some great stuff, really interesting company. I’ve been following them for a long, long time. Cause I always thought it was a very cool company. I’ve just sort of been watching for the economics to move positive, which they finally have. Anyways, take a look. And that’s kind of, I think the content for today. So the takeaways here. The four intangible assets, I think that’s a really useful framework. I’ll put the link in the notes. Externalizing internal capabilities as a service tends to be a popular strategy, quite good. And then yeah, more generative AI stuff. So anyways, I hope that is helpful and that is the content for today. As for me, as mentioned, I got at least two more days here in Bucharest, which is… I’ve been moseying around a little bit. I’ve been mostly working, so I haven’t actually seen much. It’s kind of an interesting, it’s not really a tourist city. It’s kind of pleasant and it’s this interesting mix of sort of Soviet, you know, communist architecture, which usually means a lot of, you know, bland apartment blocks, crumbling. A lot of massive thoroughfares and tons of fountains also crumbling. And then against that, there’s also this long history of sort of European buildings as well. It’s kind of an interesting mix, which are quite nice. So I heard someone refer to it like Gotham City, which, you know, from Batman. I kind of think that’s true a little bit. It is this sort of mix of like a beautiful city. but also the sort of rundown parts of it as well. And there’s, you know, there’s a lot of sort of majesty to it, but there’s also sort of some dark history that’s been playing out. Yeah, I don’t know if that’s a good comparison, but someone mentioned it then. I’ve been thinking about that as I walk around. Anyways, it’ll be fun. I’ll head out of here in, I guess, two days. Oh, one other thing I forgot to mention. We are ramping up another China tech tour. If you are interested, let us know. This is gonna be in the fall, and we’re gonna focus more on retail, CPG companies, that sort of, as opposed to tech across the board. So this is gonna be more appropriate for companies with brands, retail, definitely. People, if you’re in the retail business, if any of this is interesting, send me a note, and I’ll sort of give you a heads up on what we’re gonna do. Should be pretty awesome. The last one was fantastic. So anyways, that’s it for me. I hope everyone is doing well and I’ll talk to you next week I think from Bulgaria Bye. Bye
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