Facebook has announced a two-year agreement with the US National Football League (NFL) for highlights and short clips of American football games, to be streamed shortly after the game has ended.
Two billion users on Facebook will now be able to watch the clips for free on the social network, but videos will include mid-roll ads which the network hopes to sell to advertisers to monetize the service.
While most of the content will be offered by NFL on a non-exclusive basis, the league will be producing some exclusive highlights shows, specifically for the social media giant's recently launched "Watch" video platform. These will only be available in the US.
Facebook's stated video strategy is a mobile-first, community-based approach to video. And you can see how this fits into it. The network offers short clips of football games, ideally suited to sharing and commenting, as well as viewing on mobile devices. (See Community Is Key to Video – Facebook's Danker.)
It's also well positioned to target video promotions, based on user location, friends, comments, likes and other characteristics.
There has been some debate about sports content starting to lose its attraction for younger viewers, with ratings slipping. The data is still inconsistent, and it's not unusual for viewership to shift year-over-year due to factors like elections, Olympics and the weather. (See Is Sports Programming Losing Its Edge?)
Still, this kind of bite-sized video works well with a demographic that is arguably viewing sports differently, i.e., checking scores and updates online or via an app rather than sitting down and watching the entire game. They are more likely to look to Facebook and Twitter updates for updates, but also for comments and opinions -- from their friends, from game pundits and from the larger group of fans.
It's no surprise therefore that Facebook is steadily snapping up sports rights. It signed a deal with Major League Baseball (MLB) earlier this year and put in a (losing) $600 million bid for cricket matches from the Indian Premier League (IPL). It also signed a deal with digital sports provider Stadium, for the exclusive broadcast of 15 live college football games this year.
And it's turned into a soccer hub of sorts: it signed deals to stream soccer games from the Mexican football league, Major League Soccer (MLS) in the US and the European Champions League.
But it's also expanding its library to include less mainstream sports. Facebook will be live streaming Championship Tour and Big Wave Tour events from the World Surf League, and a series of CrossFit events through 2017.
Twitter Inc. was actually the first mover in this area, but now that Facebook has finalized its video strategy, it seems to be moving forward aggressively with acquiring streaming rights for sporting events. (See Twitter Ramps Up Premium Video Content.)
Facebook also appears to be experimenting a little, to see what kind of coverage and formats appeal most to its viewers. While the network has clearly stated that commenting, sharing, liking etc. are key attributes of the Facebook video experience, it is less consistent with the length of videos it is offering. It seems clips and highlights are important for the social network, but so is coverage of full-length games.
This is probably wise. There certainly are suggestions that sports viewership -- the sure-shot ratings earner of the past -- is now starting to change. But even if younger audiences now prefer to watch sports via clips and highlights, there are plenty of older fans around, who still want to watch the entire game. Nor is the shift 100% consistent across younger viewers.
Like most other aspects of this evolving video market, everyone in the value chain will have to support both traditional and disruptive viewing behaviors until we figure out where it is we are going.
— Aditya Kishore, Practice Leader, Video Transformation, Telco Transformation