Facebook, which has dabbled in streaming live sports but has largely steered clear and opted not to bid for live rights, is pivoting its Facebook Watch strategy again.
According to The Information, Facebook is increasing their budget for Facebook Watch to $1.4 billion (uh, that’s a lot), but is focusing more on paying for clips from networks, sports events, and talk shows instead of original content and live sports rights.
Facebook continues to increase its programming budget for Watch—it will rise to around $1.4 billion this year, from the company’s initial $1 billion budget in 2017, according to a person familiar with the matter. But within that amount, it is spending less on costly originals and more on talk shows and licensing clips from TV networks and sports leagues. Meantime, it has pulled back from bidding for rights to stream major live sports, the person said, at least for the moment.
Facebook has stuck their toe in the water with live sports numerous times, including the Concacaf Champions League, MLS, Liga MX, and Golden Boy Boxing. Facebook also struck a much-maligned deal with Major League Baseball prior to the 2017 season (which hasn’t been renewed yet, per The Information’s article). In 2018, the MLB deal called for 25 exclusive games, was roundly trashed amidst a plethora of issues, and was scaled back to six non-exclusive games in 2019.
It’s almost like Facebook has no idea what the hell they’re doing when it comes to live sports. Back in 2017, Mark Zuckerberg said Facebook would give live sports a whirl, which led to one analyst making the hilarious claim that WWE Raw could move to Facebook, Stadium producing 15 college football games for Facebook, and Facebook submitting a failed $600 million bid for live cricket rights. At the beginning of 2018, Facebook hired Eurosport’s Peter Hutton to negotiate global sports rights deals, who declared that he was “not expecting any huge investments in sports rights in the near future” back in October.
Hutton also noted in that interview that much of the live sports content on Facebook was not actually paid for by Facebook.
“The majority of that content is done without any payment from Facebook,” Hutton explained. “It monetises itself and the big publishers get returns back from it. There’s an ad-break system that then gives a share of revenue back.
“When we talk about the live content on Facebook, the classic journalist message is always about the two or three paid deals that have got a lot of headlines, but the reality is that 95 to 96 per cent of the live sport on the platform we don’t pay for.”
Well, I guess that settles that – Facebook’s not going to try to get an exclusive package of NFL games, as was rumored four years ago. But highlights? Those are still fair game, and the type of content that is ideal for Facebook.