Tencent Joins Forces With ESPN To Tap March Madness In China

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Tencent Holding Ltd. has inked a multiyear deal with ESPN, a division of Walt Disney Co., to air live sporting matches and Chinese-language commentary.

QQ Sports, Tencent’s flagship sports portal, will launch an ESPN sports section, initially focussing on NBA and international soccer, according to a statement from ESPN.

ESPN will provide exclusive Mandarin-language commentary for every game in the 2016 NBA playoffs, as well as a weekly “opinion and debate program” for Tencent users. The deal also covers the NCAA ‘March Madness’ Basketball Championship along with the X Games.

“Our relationship with Tencent marks an exciting new era for ESPN’s global business,” said Russell Wolff, Executive Vice President of ESPN International.

ESPN has also committed to providing Chinese-language media content covering NBA and international soccer, as well as permitting QQ to syndicate translated versions of other ESPN media content.

China’s tech giants, among which Tencent is the biggest, have been rapidly buying up media content in a mad dash to lock down sections of the online entertainment subscription market. Alibaba recently bought out the remaining shares in Beijing-based streaming company Youku Tudou, as well as several other media assets including the controversial acquisition of Hong Kong newspaper South China Morning Post.

Passages of investment have blurred between Tencent and Alibaba amidst the vacuum of available media content. Disney’s ESPN favored Tencent’s strong existing sports audience, though Disney recently launched an exclusive over-the-top content streaming service with Alibaba, who have excelled in media marketing. Recently Tencent also joined forces with Yunfeng Capital, backed by Alibaba Chairman Jack Ma, to buy out a shell company with the aim of producing media content.

ESPN says that they intend to extend the partnership with Tencent into other sports in the future.