Why China's Tencent Already Has 120 People in Brazil for World Cup

The Internet Giant Is Attacking the Event From All Angles, From Live Broadcasts to WeChat Interaction

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Tencent's going all-in for the World Cup
Tencent's going all-in for the World Cup

China isn't known as a hotbed of soccer super fans. But Chinese internet giant Tencent is betting that people nonetheless want to keep up-to-speed on the World Cup. So it's planning a continuous blast of live match broadcasts; news and commentary; scores via app and instant messenger; social games; and interactive commentary on WeChat, the company's hot social app.

To put things in perspective, Tencent already has more than 120 journalists, editors and photographers on the ground in Brazil. And the company has lined up sponsors including Nike, Toyota, Budweiser, Head & Shoulders and local beer brand Tsingtao, said Sophia Ong, Tencent's GM for planning and implementation, in an interview.

China's Tencent is the world's fourth-largest internet company by market capitalization, after Google, Facebook and Amazon. Looking at its sweeping plans for the World Cup is a good way to get a feel for its ambitions and how varied its offerings are. It has a Hulu-like video service, products that resemble Instagram and Vine, instant messaging, and WeChat, a fast-growing all-in-one mobile app that has 355 million monthly active users. It plans to use all of those to reach Chinese users during the June 12-July 13 event.

China is better known for its badminton, gymnastics or table tennis glory than for passion about soccer. Its national team qualified only once for the World Cup, in 2002 (though it scored no goals).

Still, some soccer players are famous enough to have well-known Chinese names. WeChat global ambassador Lionel Messi, for example, is Mei Xi, with characters meaning "plum" and "West."

A survey showed about three-fourths of Chinese tuned in to the 2010 World Cup, Ms Ong said. Many watch because it's a major world event, or because everyone's talking about it.

"During that period it's a topic, and they need to have the social currency to talk about it with their friends," Ms. Ong said.

To appeal to those types, Tencent plans content such as interviews with the wives and girlfriends of stars.

More devoted fans can use Tencent's QQ instant messaging service to get scores or as an alarm to wake them for live games airing in the middle of the night in China. Via WeChat, they can send comments and questions to newscasters.

And they might attend offline events -- Tencent is renting 32 movie theaters in 5 to 10 cities to show overnight games, Ms. Ong said.

0723 p9 Sophia Ong
0723 p9 Sophia Ong

Tencent will obviously run ads during the event, but it's putting a focus on sponsorship. One plan is to use post-production techniques to edit brands into news footage. For example, it would look like an anchorman stepped out of a Mercedes-Benz van that wasn't really there.

As another example, Tencent asked a men's personal care brand to sponsor a game on an Instagram-like app called Story Camera. The game would encourage people to take selfies to compare how they look to soccer stars.

One quirk about the event's broadcast in China is that state-owned behemoth CCTV holds the official rights to the World Cup, but it hasn't officially released any live coverage licenses to online players. It's still not clear which portals will end up with those licenses, China media agencies say.

"According to past experience, they will release them very, very late," Ms. Ong said.

Ms. Ong says Tencent has a memorandum signed with CCTV, and she's confident there won't be any last-minute hitches.