Facebook: We’re still learning about sports rights but can be focus for unsold territories
Florence Lloyd-Hughes at Soccerex in Manchester
Facebook is still learning about sports media rights but it can be the perfect tool for leveraging content in "unsold territories", according to Jerry Newman, who heads the social media giant's sport partnerships in Europe, Middle East and Africa.
Speaking at the Soccerex convention in Manchester today on an experienced panel that featured representatives from DAZN, the over-the-top streaming platform operated by Perform, Grabyo, the streaming technology company, and Tencent, the Chinese internet giant, Newman was tight-lipped on whether Facebook would soon acquire exclusive rights rather than continue to stream sports in partnership with existing rights-holders.
However, when pressed by Richard Ayers, chief executive of Seven League, the UK-based online sports data agency, on when Facebook would begin to acquire premium media rights, Newman admitted the platform is still learning.
He said: “We’ve had a number of partnerships in the US: a partnership with MLB, we’ve also worked with Univision and LigaMX. It’s very much a case of we need to learn. We need to educate the broadcasters on how they adapt to this new environment and how they change their content. That is the most valuable thing for us, its not only about how we better work with out partners and how they use our platform, but also it's about trying to create habit.”
Facebook has started to make a play for major rights, today offering Rs39 billion ($608 million) for digital rights in India to cricket's Indian Premier League for the next five years, only to lose out as global rights to the Twenty20 tournament were awarded to broadcasting giant Star India for Rs163.5 billion.
Meanwhile, its streaming ventures have included showing games from Major League Baseball, Major League Soccer and Mexican soccer’s top-tier LigaMX across USA.
The platform recently agreed a deal to show coverage in USA of European soccer’s Uefa Champions League in a partnership with rights-holder Fox.
The offering this season will comprise two games per match day in the group stage, which starts this month, plus four round-of-16 matches and four quarter-final contests.
Following these agreements, and numerous other one-off streaming deals, Facebook has been expected to start acquiring its own rights, just as rival Amazon, the online retail giant, has picked up a a selection of NFL American football games and UK rights to ATP Tour tennis.
In response to a question about Facebook providing leverage for sports without rights deals in certain countries and agreeing deals in "unsold territories," Newman responded: "We're seeing that a lot at the moment [Facebook streaming in unsold territories]. The ICC [International Cricket Council] went live in sub-continental Europe with some live content and the response was amazing. We're seeing the US PGA [Championship], which has traditionally been on Sky [the UK pay-TV platform] and probably realised from a niche basis that it probably didn't make much sense to continue that deal, and instead it went direct-to-consumer on Facebook."
Last month, there was streamed content from the major tournament on Facebook in the UK and on rival Twitter across the UK, Ireland, Japan, Latin America and the Caribbean, as part on an expanded digital strategy for the tournament.
Facebook’s latest venture has been the launch of a ‘Watch’ tab, which has already debuted in USA and features live and on-demand original programming and sports content.
Newman explained Facebook’s present strategy and the intentions of ‘Watch’, saying: “The episodic approach to Watch is really important. If you open up ‘News Feed’ you know what you get, the algorithm is going to search and you’re going to get specific content. But, with ‘Watch' you’re going to subscribe to a number of pieces of content and that’s going to pull you in.
“These things take time and the feedback we’ve got back from the likes of LigaMX, MLB is great. Certainly the one thing that stands out for me is Crossfit. These guys are loving the way they’ve been adapting to the platform, they’re expanding what they’re doing. They’re putting live events on the platform. It’s fascinating because they are a league and they are going direct to consumer.
“It's not just about the ability to play out those live events, it's that every part of their business is going to benefit from this. The funnel conversion is going to be constantly talked about and the ability to be able to take someone who is a viewer or cluster audiences of viewers and get them to do an action.”
An in-depth feature on the future of over-the-top streaming will be featuring in Sportcal Insight magazine next month.