The New NBA Season is Streaming in China… Kind Of

Tencent's official broadcast of the 2019-2020 NBA season is a case study in real-time censorship

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8:54 PM HKT, Thu October 24, 2019 2 mins read

As the second day of the 2019-2020 NBA regular season draws to a close, viewers in China still can’t watch most of the games.

On Thursday morning (China time) on Tencent, the NBA’s official streaming partner in China, over half of today’s games showed only the score in real time, accompanied by the caption “比分播报中” — “broadcasting the score.” A handful of games, including season openers for the San Antonio Spurs and Portland Trailblazers, were shown on Tencent as live video streams, but without an option for a feed with English commentary, which was available all throughout the 2018-2019 season. (The English version of Tencent’s NBA live feed last year was typically syndicated from the official NBA TV stream.)

Similarly, the league opener between the returning champions, the Toronto Raptors, and the New Orleans Pelicans displayed only the score in real time, with a full video of the game uploaded two hours after it finished. The other game last night, a matchup between LA’s two heavily-favored 2020 championship contenders, was live streamed with Chinese commentary at a several-minute delay, with occasional cutaways to static images during live game play. WeChat account 诚言SIR recalls a particularly tense moment after a game-tying dunk by Dwight Howard in the third quarter:

“It is not an exaggeration to say that this was the most exciting basket in the game. The commentator shouted ‘beautiful!’ The game was tied at 82. I wanted to take a good look at the playback — how did the Clippers lose their position at the rim? How did they let Howard get in? Then, Tencent did a live cut to a stats screen for [Laker] Danny Green… This image lasted for 25 seconds, while the game was being played… After 25 seconds, the camera cut back to the game, and the Lakers had overtaken the Clippers 85-82. No one knows where this 85th point for the Lakers came from.”

nba game lakers clipper hong kong sign

Screenshot via 诚言SIR

The post’s author cites “uncontrollable things happening on the scene” and Tencent’s fear of the camera landing on pro-Hong Kong messaging as the reason for this and several other live outages during the stream, as well as the fact that “the live video we saw was slower than the foreign broadcast.

The author of the post goes on to side with Tencent, asking (and answering) the rhetorical question: “Why are these people [with clothing featuring slogans supporting Hong Kong independence] able to enter the arena without being detected and stopped at security checks? Oh, maybe it’s because of the ‘freedom’ of people in the United States to wear anything [they want].”


Ever since the NBA vs China conflict first popped off in early October, the future of the NBA’s juggernaut of success in its biggest market has been cast into doubt. On the other side of the ocean, fans, commentators, and political pundits have urged the NBA to hold its ground in defending free speech and, by extension, Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey.

Though state sports network CCTV-5 has maintained its boycott on showing NBA games, Tencent Sports is claiming that 25 million people tuned in for its “live” stream of last night’s Lakers/Clippers game — up from 21 million viewers of the penultimate game in last year’s championship series between the Raptors and Golden State Warriors.

It’s hard to imagine these numbers holding up, however, if fewer than half of NBA games are streamed live, and those at a strictly monitored delay. Six out of today’s 11 games had no live stream; the rest of the week’s games currently say “TBD,” and tomorrow’s season opener for the Houston Rockets does not appear on the schedule at all. And anyone in China hoping to access Tencent’s English-language NBA stream — which last year featured such fun bonuses as uncut feeds of halftime shows and post-game jersey retirement ceremonies — should probably ask for their money back.

Cover image by JC Gellidon on Unsplash
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