China's Tencent signs deal to stream HBO shows online

China's Tencent signs deal to stream HBO shows online
HBO shows like "True Detective" can now be watched in China via Tencent, one of China's largest social networking and video streaming websites. (Lacey Terrell / HBO)

Chinese Internet giant Tencent has signed an exclusive deal with Time Warner's HBO to stream the service's shows online in China.

Tencent, one of the largest social networking and video streaming websites in China, will be the sole provider of popular programs such as "Game of Thrones," "Boardwalk Empire" and "True Detective," the firm said Tuesday.

American TV shows have become increasingly popular among China's well-educated and English-speaking youth, thanks to licensed content online and what is seen as dull programming from the country's traditional broadcast media. Chinese online firms have spent over $1 billion on foreign content over the last two years to attract more viewers, according to one recent report.

"This partnership enables us to distribute some of the most ground-breaking programming in the world through our robust technology platform, to the benefit of Chinese Internet users," Tencent's president, Martin Lau, said in a statement.

The company did not give details on how much it spent for the HBO rights or on exact debut dates for the programming. It said that the programs would be aired in the near future but are subject to approval by China's regulators.

Government regulators are increasing their scrutiny of online streaming. China's State Administration of Press, Publication, Film, Radio and Television has said that foreign television shows that fail to get a license will be taken offline starting April 1of next year.

"Qualified Internet video content providers are encouraged to introduce healthy and well-produced foreign TV shows that promote positive values such as being truthful, kind and delightful," the agency said in September.

Chinese authorities have been more flexible when it comes to online content, compared with broadcast-television programs, but recently they have removed some foreign shows, such as "The Big Bang Theory" and "The Good Wife," from online streaming sites.

Some of the content of the HBO shows, known for gore, nudity and violence, is certain to attract attention. In May, China’s state broadcaster, CCTV, aired a cleaned-up version of the pilot episode of "Game of Thrones." The episode was missing about 11 minutes and was described by one blogger as “a medieval castle documentary.”

Silbert is a special correspondent.