August 18, 2017
Facebook has been rumoured to be announcing a TV-like service for months. With news of major sports rightsholders, such as Major League Baseball and La Liga, signing deals with the social network, the sports industry has been waiting to see whether Facebook’s new offering could catapult it near the top of the list of those digital platforms shaking up the traditional sports TV market.
Last week saw the launch of Facebook’s Watch tab, a dedicated video channel within users’ profiles. It aims to build a community around users’ favourite shows – providing video suggestions based on the viewing habits of users’ friends and encouraging sharing. Whilst “live sports” was listed by Zuckerberg as content that he hopes will find a home on Watch, the service has not been labelled as a sports offering. Amateur video, motivational talks and comedy all feature, which on first glance, makes Watch sound more like YouTube than Netflix.
Whilst YouTube has a large video library, Facebook’s aim is not to recommend on the basis of what users watch – instead, recommendations are based on what’s popular within a given user’s community. This adds an edge of personalisation that YouTube, or Netflix for that matter, cannot match. However, as people primarily use Facebook as a social network, it will be interesting to see whether this personalised approach converts social media users into video consumers and, in particular, whether Facebook (which we know is intended to launch on TV apps such as Apple TV), will ever seem like a natural place to watch live sport.
We do know that the number of subscribers to traditional TV are in decline and we also know that, according to a forecast by Cisco, video is likely to make up 82% of internet traffic by 2021. With figures like that, it is understandable that Facebook wants to look at new ways to increase its share of the digital advertising market. Compelling and engaging video content will be key in driving these advertising revenues for Facebook and so, perhaps the addition of sports content (in most cases, already being produced to a high standard) is an obvious move.
We expect the MLB games to be available via Watch, along with the other sports content Facebook acquired this year, such as Major League Soccer and the World Surf League events. What will be particularly interesting is whether there is an increase in partnerships between Facebook and other broadcasters. We saw Fox Sports partner with Facebook earlier in the year to distribute UEFA Champions’ League in the US via Facebook Live but whilst Facebook was “thrilled” to be able to show these matches, Fox was clear that it saw the social media giant “helping Fox to grow European soccer in the United States“. With two billion monthly users it’s plain to see why Facebook is an attractive platform to grow fans, but whether it will be the go-to place to consume sports content, and be able to generate the revenues rightsholders have come to expect, only time will tell.