Alibaba (BABA -2.68%) is one of the largest and most widely recognized tech companies in China. It owns the country's largest e-commerce marketplaces and its top cloud infrastructure platform.

Most investors who follow Alibaba will know that it generates most of its revenue and all of its profits from its commerce business. They'll also know that the commerce business supports the expansion of its unprofitable cloud, digital media, and innovation initiatives segments -- but that core profit engine has been struggling with slower growth and tougher regulatory headwinds.

I discussed Alibaba's core business in a recent article, but today I'll focus on a few aspects of the business that attract a lot less attention.

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1. It's one of China's largest digital advertising platforms

Most discussions about China's digital advertising market revolve around Tencent's (TCEHY -0.46%) WeChat, Baidu's (BIDU -1.87%) online search engine, and growing Gen Z-oriented platforms like ByteDance's Douyin (also known as TikTok) and Bilibili.

But two years ago, the research firm R3 found that Alibaba actually led that market, and accounted for 33% of the country's digital ad spending. ByteDance ranked second with a 23% share, followed by Baidu (17%) and Tencent (14%). Alibaba also currently accounts for more than 40% of all mobile ad spending in China, according to Statista's estimates, as well as 67% of the country's e-commerce ad spending, according to eMarketer.

Alibaba leads the advertising market because the listing fees collected by its main Chinese marketplaces, Taobao and Tmall, are technically advertising revenue. Its merchants also purchase display ads across both platforms.

Therefore, Alibaba's advertising ecosystem could continue to pull advertising dollars away from WeChat, Baidu, and other major platforms. Many businesses will likely think it's easier to advertise their products within Alibaba's ecosystem instead of attracting clicks from external sites.

2. It's one of China's leading mobile game publishers

Tencent and NetEase are China's largest mobile game publishers. However, Alibaba also has a growing presence in this market through Lingxi Games, a mobile game subsidiary that was established after its acquisition of the gaming company EJoy in 2017.

Lingxi's first Romance of the Three Kingdoms game became a major hit in 2019, and its latest version, Romance of the Three Kingdoms: Strategy Edition, is currently the fourth-highest-grossing iOS game in China, according to App Annie. Tencent's Honor of Kings ranks first, followed by NetEase's Fantasy Westward Journey and Tencent's Peacekeeper Elite.

Alibaba doesn't break out Lingxi's financials separately yet, but its robust growth prompted the company to move the game publisher from its experimental innovation initiatives segment into the more stable digital media and entertainment segment at the beginning of fiscal 2021.

Lingxi might face some near-term headwinds if China passes tighter regulations on its gaming industry, but it could also become another major growth engine for Alibaba over the next few years.

3. It's one of the world's top smart speaker brands

Amazon's (AMZN -0.57%) launch of its first Echo smart speaker in late 2014 prompted Alibaba and its Chinese peers to launch similar products. Alibaba launched the Tmall Genie, a smart speaker and screen that was tethered to an Alexa-like voice assistant called AliGenie. Baidu's line of Xiaodu smart speakers and screens were powered by its own voice assistant, DuerOS.

Alibaba's share of the global smart speaker and screen market dipped from 13.5% to 12.5% between the second quarters of 2020 and 2021, according to Strategy Analytics, but it's still the fourth-largest player after Amazon, Alphabet's Google, and Baidu. Alibaba's total shipments also rose 25% year over year in the second quarter -- so this business is still growing.

Alibaba also tethers third-party household appliance and device makers to its AliGenie smart home ecosystem. That Internet of Things (IoT) expansion could shore up its defenses against Baidu, Tencent, and other tech giants as they expand their ecosystems beyond PCs and mobile devices.

Alibaba's smart speaker and screen business is part of its unprofitable innovation initiatives segment, and it will likely continue to sell its devices at paper-thin margins or losses. But over the long term, these cheap hardware devices could lock more consumers into its higher-margin retail marketplaces.

But what about Alibaba's near-term challenges?

These three businesses indicate that Alibaba isn't simply an e-commerce and cloud company. It's a sprawling business with plenty of moving parts, and its strengths in the advertising, gaming, and smart screen markets shouldn't be overlooked.

That said, these businesses won't solve Alibaba's near-term problems. The company is still struggling with the decelerating growth of its domestic e-commerce business amid intense competition and tougher regulations. For now, investors should mainly focus on Alibaba's ability to fix those issues before diving deeper into the weeds.