Facebook this week landed a couple of major sports streaming deals, further signalling its intent to lure TV viewers and advertisers to its platform. With the addition of live Boxing fights thanks to an agreement signed with Oscar De La Hoya’s boxing promotion company (Golden Boy Promotions), as well as the exclusive rights to show live Premier League soccer matches in parts of Asia from 2019, Facebook is stepping up as a major player on the live sports scene.
These recent deals follow similar Facebook agreements with Major League Baseball (MLB) and the PGA Tour, and are all part of Facebook’s push to scale viewing on Facebook Watch through live sports and other sports-related content.
Added to this is Facebook’s ramp up on original content, with the Wall Street Journal reporting late last year that Facebook would spend in the region of US$1 billion on original video content in 2018.
Becoming a video-first platform
It’s clear that becoming a video-first platform is among Facebook’s top priorities. Over the past few years the social giant has worked to tweak its algorithms to prioritize video in the News Feed, rolled out its ‘Live’ platform and Watch tab and made it easier for users to create 360-degree and virtual reality (VR) content. Now, along with rival platforms YouTube and Snapchat, it’s investing in original video content and streaming rights, with the aim of attracting TV ad dollars. Facebook is entering the race, along with a number of other global tech companies, as a major driver in the TV-cord-cutting revolution happening around the world.
Live sports streaming – Premier League soccer a strategic choice
As mentioned, while this is by no means Facebook’s first live sports rights deal, it is a significant and strategic one.
The most popular competition
The Premier League is the world’s most watched sports league. Facebook’s acquisition of the Premier League rights in parts of Asia signals a continuation of digital platforms’ moves to curate premium sports content that has historically only been available on linear TV.
People live online
Around the world, people are set to spend an estimated 221 minutes per day online in 2018, up 4% year-over-year. And that figure increases with younger audiences – a recent study found that half of US teens are online ‘almost constantly’. It’s therefore logical for platforms like Facebook to start making a play for fringe services like sports streaming, which can be easily and seamlessly integrated as part of their offerings. While Facebook hasn’t yet inserted ads into any of its live sports broadcast, as the variety and quality of video content continues to grow, Facebook advertisers will increasingly benefit from a growth in eyeballs and time spent on the platform. And it’s highly likely Facebook will roll out new ad formats in the future, as live sports become more embedded in the Facebook user experience.
Targeting Facebook’s biggest user base
This Premier League soccer deal also signals Facebook starting by targeting its biggest user base. A staggering 40% of Facebook’s Q1 2018 monthly active users were in the APAC region, compared to smaller proportions in the US and Canada (11%) and Europe (17%). Added to that, according to Southeast Asia Globe, 38% of the Premier League’s viewers come from the Asia and Oceania region.
Facebook doesn’t just want to reproduce a classic TV experience with its live and original video. With a view to making time spent on its platform meaningful, social viewing could be a key to building and cementing intentional viewing on Facebook. Facebook is looking to bring a sense of community and interactivity to the video it produces.
Take, for example, ESPN’s First Take: Your Take, already being streamed on Facebook three times a week, and whose format seems designed for the platform. On the first episode of the week, which airs on Mondays, ESPN runs a traditional in-studio show in which the hosts debate a broad sports topic. After this episode, viewers are encouraged to upload videos of their own answers to the show’s Facebook Group, after which ESPN will put some of the best responses into a second episode airing on Wednesdays. On Friday’s episode, ESPN invites one of the uploaders to debate with the show’s hosts directly. This is an example of a model we could see become more popular, and one which sets original content on Facebook apart from than on linear TV.
Instagram gets in on the party
With the launch of IGTV, Instagram has also taken a big step towards becoming a major player in social video. Even prior to this big announcement, about one-third of all content posted by the top 30 Instagram accounts was video. IGTV now means Instagram is pivoting towards long-form video content and delivering it in the way people want to consume it – vertical on mobile. Like TV, video in IGTV starts to play as soon as you open that section of that app. And creators are the channels. When you follow a creator on Instagram, their IGTV channel will show up for you to watch.
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