There is at least one corner of the China-US trade map that appears to be unscathed amid their ongoing trade tensions.
Tencent, the Chinese tech giant behind the ubiquitous WeChat messaging app, announcement today (July 29) that it will renew a five-year partnership with the National Basketball Association (NBA) of the United States until 2025 to offer live streaming, video on demand and other services league content on its platforms in China. The value of the deal was not announced, but Lanxiong Sports, a Chinese online sports news channel, noted (in Chinese) the number could be $ 1.5 billion, compared to $ 500 million the tech giant spent its previous five-year partnership with the NBA to exclusively stream online games from 2015.
Tencent did not respond to a request for comment.
Part of Tencent’s motivation to spend what could be three times as much money on rights can be attributed to the significant increase in NBA viewership in the country. About 490 million people, or more than a third of China’s population of 1.3 billion, watched the final games of the 2018-19 basketball league season on Tencent-affiliated platforms. The number was almost triple that of the 2014-15 season, just before the start of the Tencent-NBA streaming partnership. More than 21 million viewers this year watched the sixth game of the final, in which the Toronto Raptors succeeded their first tournament win, making it China’s most-watched NBA game on digital platforms, according to Tencent, now the league’s biggest international partner.
The actual NBA audience in China is even larger than the figures announced. While Tencent has the exclusive rights to broadcast the matches live online, the league has entered into partnerships with other Chinese companies to grant them license rights to use other NBA content.
Among them is ByteDance, the parent company of the short video streaming app Tik Tok, which signed an agreement (in Chinese) with the NBA last November to post short videos such as game highlights and behind-the-scenes clips on Tik Tok and two other of its platforms. Offline, CCTV 5, the sports channel of China’s national broadcaster CCTV, has exclusive rights to broadcast the matches live on TV.
Thanks to the large number of viewers, the NBA has become the most popular sports league in China, with players like Kobe Bryant having more than eight million (in Chinese) subscribers on the Weibo social media platform. Avid fans have also given players a plethora of nicknames, such as “Emperor James” (詹 皇, zhān huang) for LeBron James, or “Love God” (爱神, àishén) for Kevin Love.