How the NBA engages China’s 200M millennials with mobile video

China’s younger generations are making greater use of mobile internet services, consuming more content especially around mobile and video, creating big challenges for advertisers. 

In China, those born after 1990, (what we call ‘millennials’ in the West), make up more than one third of China’s total internet population. There are 200 million online Chinese making up this young demographic, and reaching them is a marketer’s headache.

Here’s a look at how the NBA is engaging this group in China, and how multinational brands are aligning alongside these campaigns.

1. Integrating strategies across channels

The audience in China is voracious when it comes to consuming online video. They spend around 26 hours per week on their phones watching content. Social apps also take up huge amount of time – the heaviest users spend more than two hours a day interacting via social. The sheer amount of choice here through mobile devices makes things more difficult for marketers, as their target audiences have more options than ever before.

Rather than picking one channel or theme to concentrate on, brands should take an integrated approach to their content marketing strategy in order to be successful.

For example, your target audience will change their content preferences depending on where they are and what they are doing via their phones.

Using multiple channels can therefore help in the targeting process for when members of that target audience are at their most receptive. Campaigns should therefore lead with different channels.

2. Use sport and mobile to reach a young male demographic

The popularity of mobile internet in China means a mobile-first approach to campaigns when it comes to targeting specific audiences.

The combination of sports and content is extremely attractive to a younger male demographic.

This audience is not commonly on traditional channels, so online video or working through mobile or social apps is a better way to engage them.

The NBA and video content

The NBA is incredibly popular in China. Based on Tencent research, around 370 million users have interacted with an online service around basketball-related content in one way or another. This includes using a live broadcast service, watching via video on demand (VoD), consuming news on games or interacting with the online community. (As a side note, these 370 million users represent around half of all Internet users in China.)

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3. The difference between watching sport on mobile versus a PC

There are also some big differences that exist between those who watch NBA games and content on mobile devices compared to those viewing the same programs on traditional PCs or other terminals.

For instance, 65% of total viewers watched games on mobile devices in the 2015/2016 season compared to only 34% during the previous season.

Mobile viewers were also more likely to use new technologies that were available as part of the viewing experience. Of those who used new multi-angle features – where viewers could choose which camera to watch the game from, or swap to another to focus on a particular area of the court – 97% were on mobile.

Audiences watching from mobile devices are therefore keen to make use of new features and capabilities provided as part of the service. This enthusiasm should correlate with a willingness to try or buy new services from brands as well.

4. How online and live events can support each other

Online video has the ability to reach people when they are available and ready to watch. Time shifting around video is very appealing to younger audiences. However, this does not mean that live and one-off events don’t matter.

The audience for NBA content is keen to watch specific events live. For example, around 110 million people watched the live broadcast of Kobe Bryant’s last game across a mix of channels including live television, online video as well as news and sports apps on their smartphones.

For online video watchers, the ability to see live text comments from other users on the same screen as the game was playing out drove more interaction and discussion around the match.

The increase in content activities around this live event also led to an increase in the transaction volumes seen at the NBA store on (15 times higher than normal).

This image below shows how Chinese fans can read live text comments from other users as they watch a live game from their mobile phones.

Tencent_NBA_Watching and Texting a live match

It’s not just games that can have this impact. Alongside a visit to China by Michael Jordan, the NBA planned a series of campaigns to raise awareness for its live games. Ahead of the interview with Jordan being conducted, online video content from previous games and interviews by star Chinese athletes were used to build awareness. The campaign culminated in an interview with Jordan that covered his whole career.

This content was available via online video services as well as the Tencent Sports app.

Tencent_NBA_Sports App_600From an audience perspective, the interview with Jordan was watched by around 2.2million people live. Of this, around 58% were 24-years-old or younger. This audience is an attractive one for advertisers, particularly given how much this audience interacts via mobile and watches online video. By building a campaign in this way – rather than looking at more traditional approaches based on TV or radio – the NBA was able to quantify the impact that the event had, as well as creating more valuable content for audiences to watch.

5. Using social media channels in China for personal brand building

Alongside the overall approach by the NBA, athletes are also building up their own profiles too. This can be through social media accounts as well as participation in content development.

Here is LeBron James’ welcome message when fans connect with him on WeChat.

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For advertisers, the audience around the NBA represents a great opportunity to develop longer-term relationships alongside a trusted brand. A good example of this is Nike.

On the content side, Nike has collaborated with Tencent on Da You Ming Tang, a series that features entertainment stars and NBA superstars in a combination of documentary and reality show. The series explores the unique stories of young basketball players and how they have realized their basketball dreams.

Key influencers and celebrities including Jam Hsiao, Peter Ho, Kenji Wu and Weitong Zhou, appeared in the program. Nike also brought in basketball superstars like Kobe Bryant, James Davis and Paul George to take part in the reality show. This combination helped deliver a unique format in the content schedule, while also meeting the needs for both audience and brand.

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Many of the athletes in this series run their own accounts on WeChat and Weibo. This can also support more sales via ecommerce. On the day that Kobe Bryant retired, visits to the online store at were 80 times higher than the average number of visits seen during the season.

However, this was not solely a peak for NBA-branded goods. Around 11,000 items of private label goods under Kobe’s brand were also sold, with sales revenue reaching 4 million RMB (US$600,000).

Nike is not the only brand capitalising from the NBA buzz.

Here’s an example of famous Chinese F&B manufacturer Kang Shi Fu’s limited edition NBA cans.

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And another from SAP.



By looking at the content preferences of young men in specific locations and social levels marketers can be more strategic when creating content for them. Do they watch online video? How long are these videos, and how often do they watch? Which key opinion leaders are most relevant to them?

Analyzing this data can show up some new target audience groups which can then inform the kind of content that should be created and which celebrities should be recruited to support the messaging. This use of data can inform the creative approach, particularly when brands and media companies collaborate on set goals.

*Steven Chang is the corporate vice president, Tencent Online Media Group.

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