ESPN Teams Up With Tencent to Offer Sports Online in China

Minnesota Timberwolves v Los Angeles Lakers

Karl-Anthony Towns of the Minnesota Timberwolves boxes out Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers at the Staples Center. The majority of viewing for NBA games in China happens through computers, tablets or other mobile devices.

Photographer: Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images
  • Disney sports division will provide live games, commentary
  • Accord includes NBA, college basketball and X Games events

Walt Disney Co.’s ESPN division will offer live games and Mandarin-language sports commentary online in China under a multiyear deal with Tencent Holdings Ltd., the country’s largest Internet company.

ESPN correspondents will provide analysis for the National Basketball Association playoffs and international soccer matches shown on Tencent’s QQ sports site, starting in April, the companies said in a statement. ESPN also will contribute articles to Tencent’s sites and distribute live streams of the National Collegiate Athletic Association men’s basketball championship tournament, 100 other college basketball games and the X Games, its extreme sports events.

The deal underscores Disney’s county-by-country approach to the distribution of its video content as viewers watch more videos online. The majority of viewing for NBA games in China happens through computers, tablets or other mobile devices. Financial terms of the arrangement weren’t disclosed.

“This agreement will help us serve millions of Chinese fans and bring our coverage of basketball, international soccer and other sports to them like never before,” Russell Wolff, executive vice president of ESPN International, said in the statement.

The number of U.S. customers receiving ESPN, the nation’s largest sports channel, fell to 92 million last year, a 7 percent decrease from 2013, according to Nielsen data. While Disney is still focused on traditional TV in countries such as the U.S., Canada and Australia, it has taken different approaches in other markets.

In 2013, Disney sold its U.K. and Ireland ESPN channels to BT Group Plc. The company still operates a website there. The prior year, Disney sold its half interest in ESPN Star Sports, a pan-Asian sports channel, to what’s now 21st Century Fox Inc.

Last month, Burbank, California-based Disney announced it was introducing two new ESPN-branded TV channels in India with Sony Corp.

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