LeEco Launches U.S. Business With Phones, TVs and a Paid Video Streaming Service

By Janko Roettgers

LOS ANGELES (Variety.com) - Chinese consumer electronics upstart LeEco officially launched its US consumer business with a big press event in San Francisco Wednesday, unveiling phones and smart TVs as well as an ambitious plan for its own video business with content partners like Lionsgate, Seeso, Vice, Machinima, Mitu and Cinedigm.

Some of this content will be available for free to consumers through LeEco's LE app, but LeEco is also going to sell a subscription plan called EcoPass. This subscription plan will give consumers unlimited access to Fandor's video library, as well as access to what was billed as a "major content partner" that is going to be announced next month.

EcoPass doubles as a kind of membership service, giving consumers access to unlimited cloud storage for photos and videos as well as preferred customer service. Consumers who buy LeEco's new flagship TV will get a year's worth of EcoPass for free; buying the company's newest phones will include 3 months of LePass. The company didn't announce final pricing for LePass yet, but a screenshot briefly shown on stage showed a fee of $4.99.

LeEco's executives were joined during their launch event by Jon Feltheimer, CEO of Lionsgate. "We've licensed a significant amount of content" to LeEco's Live platform, Feltheimer said, who proclaimed himself "a big fan" of LeEco.

In addition to its LE app, LeEco will also provide consumers will a linear content experience dubbed Live. The Live service will have nine linear streaming channels pre-programmed with content from LeEco's content partners. The service will be available via apps on LeEco's phones and TV sets.

LeEco introduced a new phone dubbed the LePro 3 at the event Wednesday that comes with a quad-core processor, a 5.5 inch screen and Dolby Atmos stereo audio. The phone is being complemented by a smaller Le S3 phone. In addition, it introduced a new 4K smart TV dubbed the uMax that will sell in three sizes, up to 85 inches.

Other products introduced at the event include a VR headset dubbed ExploreVR and a connected bicycle dubbed the Superbike. LeEco isn't going to sell any of this hardware through traditional retailers, at least not at launch.

Instead, it is going to sell phones, TVs and everything else through its website LeMall.com, which allows it to sell the devices cheaper than many of its competitors. The LePro3 will sell for $399, and its uMax 85 inch 4K TV will sell for $4999. Consumers who take part in LeEco's rewards program will be able to buy the TV for $3999, and the phone for $299. LeEco is going to start selling all of its products on November 2nd.

LeEco also used the event to plug its self-driving car, which was promoted by none other than Michael Bay. The famed director said that he is using the car to shoot the next "Transformers" movie.

LeEco founder and CEO YT Jia used his appearance during the launch event to tell his audience that the company has been working on its US expansion for 3 years. "America is the most important market for us," he said.

Jia announced earlier this week that his company plans to go big in Silicon Valley: LeEco has acquired a huge plot of land from Yahoo, where it plans to build an office complex that is supposed to eventually house 12,000 employees.

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