Tencent signs a streaming deal with HBO, but China’s censors might not leave much to watch

Not allowed.
Not allowed.
Image: HBO
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Chinese internet giant Tencent has signed a deal with HBO (paywall) to stream the network’s shows online, potentially bringing hits like Game of Thrones and True Detective to a China, though Tencent said each show needs to be approved individually by the Chinese government.

Good luck with that.

Earlier this month, China’s top media regulator issued a list of topics that are now off-limits. See if you can spot any common HBO subject matter on this list from the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television:

  • drug abuse
  • extramarital affairs
  • fornication
  • gambling
  • kidnapping
  • masturbation
  • necrophilia
  • one-night stands
  • polyamorous relationship
  • pornographic content
  • prostitution
  • rape
  • sexual abuse
  • suicides
  • supernatural occurrences

HBO, owned by Time Warner, has carved out a reputation for edgy TV content precisely because it is able to show—often in graphic detail—just about everything listed above on one show or another. (One possible exception is necrophilia, which Quartz researchers could not uncover in any recent HBO shows, although the vampire drama True Blood would arguably qualify.)

The network’s current hits—Game of Thrones, Girls, and True Detective—are perhaps not coincidentally its most graphic. In fact, many of HBO’s biggest and most acclaimed hits have been heavily laced with explicit sex and violence (Sopranos, Six Feet Under, The Wire, Boardwalk Empire, Big Love) or the supernatural (True Blood). Sex in the City’s very name could be banned under the Chinese regulator’s rules.

HBO comedies like Veep, Silicon Valley, and Curb Your Enthusiasm might slip through China’s censors, but comedy is notoriously difficult to translate between different cultures and languages.

The media regulator has been widely criticized for overreaching with its new restrictions, and presumably Tencent has secured some assurance that airing altered versions of HBO shows will be feasible. Terms of the deal were not disclosed, but the exclusive right to stream HBO shows to a billion users must not come cheap. But it’s hard to image an episode of Game of Thrones streaming on Tencent in China under the new restrictions—it might not last much longer than the opening and closing credits.