Facebook Watch – A New Platform for Sports? (Updated)
James Faz / 30.08.2018
Facebook has opened its designated video channel to audiences outside the United States and is letting more content creators monetise video through its ad break program.
Last year, when Facebook first released Watch, we asked if the platform is a good fit for sports. Now, with the platform going global, our answer to this question seems a lot more relevant…
Is it right for sport?
Facebook isn’t shoving sport to one side in its bid for video supremacy, but rather embracing it. The company has spent a significant amount of time partnering with sports properties to stream games and shows on Facebook Live. Last season, Major League Baseball streamed a Friday night game each week via Facebook Live, and Univision Deportes struck a deal to stream MLS and Liga MX games on the platform. Both of these became part of Facebook Watch.
But Facebook isn’t only after live events. The lines between sports and lifestyle entertainment continue to blur, complementing the platform’s core purpose. Watch aims to provide users with engaging long-form video content, and entertainment shows like the Golden State Warriors’ ‘Champions Rewind’ is a perfect fit for the platform. Other content arrives through Facebook’s partnership with World Surf League, through MLB’s 12:25 Live, and from other major sports rights holders such as MLS, WNBA and Whistle Sports.
The outstanding docu-series ‘Tom vs Time‘, demonstrates just how powerful an engagement tool Facebook Watch can be for a sports franchise. For six episodes, legendary New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady was filmed as he built up to his eighth Super bowl. The series gave fans unprecedented insight into life behind-the-scenes of one of sports biggest stars and accumulated over 50m views. These views translate into something important – Tom vs Time brought old fans closer to the community and introduced new fans to the Patriots franchise.
Ultimately, the success of the platform will depend on the quality of its content. A driving factor in Netflix’s success was the overwhelming popularity of its exclusive show, House of Cards. This principle extends to Facebook Watch – and its sports tab too.
Facebook has said that each month more than 50 million people in the U.S. come to watch videos for at least a minute in Watch, and total time spent watching videos in Watch has increased by 14 times since the start of 2018.
There is huge demand for sport, and if sports properties can harness it with an intelligent combination of live events and high-quality entertainment shows, they will see a decent return on investment through Facebook Watch.
Relive the entire Golden State Warriors title run with "2016-17 Championship Rewind."
Posted by Champions Rewind on Monday, July 31, 2017
Pay rent or build a home
‘Where should we invest?’
Deciding whether to build a platform or to invest in a ready-made solution like Facebook Watch is a recurring dilemma for sports rights holders.
For smaller sports rights holders, the answer may be reached quickly. The reach and functionality Facebook offers is a welcome relief for those happy managing a smaller online audience. But for major properties, those like the NFL or the EFL, the question on how to use a platform like Facebook Watch alongside other digital assets requires deeper consideration.
If the goal is to improve your bottom line, sports properties will need to learn the difference between the revenue made from advertising and other streams via a self-owned platform and that of advertising on Facebook Watch.
Facebook is making it easier for content producers to monetise their output with Ad Breaks, and is currently allowing them to keep 55% of the revenue. Facebook has said that more than 70 percent of mid-roll ads are viewed to the end, and Digiday has reported that, according to three publishers that have been trialing the mid-roll program, monthly revenue from Watch is healthy and in the six figures.
Can a self-owned platform do better? As brand advertisers become more digitally savvy, questions like ‘how many people will you reach?’, ‘who is watching?’ and ‘how long will they watch for?’ will require increasingly detailed, demonstrable answers, answers that Facebook is already extremely adept at providing.
Setting the example
Major sports franchises are now thinking of themselves as digital media companies. The sports leagues in the United States are leaders in this new culture, but other properties are starting to catch up. Real Madrid, the world’s third-most valuable football team with a global fan base of 450m, is one of the first to release a show on Facebook Watch.
‘Hala Madrid’ is a video series documenting various aspects of the club’s culture. There is no burning innovation here – it’s a timeless idea executed well. With an average of 2.8m views per episode, it seems to be working for the club. We’re increasingly witnessing sports clubs owning their own production and now, with Facebook Watch, control over the distribution.
Whereas previously most sports properties have been slow to the draw, many are starting to realise they are sitting on a wealth of content and a captive digital audience.
“Sports companies have always been associated with producing and distributing content,” said Rafael de los Santos, global head of digital at Real Madrid. “The difference is that now with digital we can customise content for different fans in different ways and on different channels.”
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Find your balance
It’s not uncommon for average watch times on Watch videos to be double or triple that of Facebook News Feed videos. This could be due to initial excitement from early adopters of the platform, but having a dedicated section for long-form video will encourage a trend of high-value engagement.
If there’s one reason why sports should use Facebook Watch, it’s that the audience is already there. So long as video production is high-quality, and the narrative engaging, Facebook’s built-in tools for sharing, live commenting and community management will ensure sports rights holders will quickly enjoy an engaged viewership.
We think with all the money and resource behind Watch it will become a global mainstay within the next few years. Now is a good time for sports properties to observe those already making use of the channel and decide how best to integrate it into their own digital strategy.
In sport, money relies on attention. Media companies have been experts at gaining attention and then monetising it for years. It’s time for all sports to really explore their potential outside of live events. Just like every person has a story to tell, so does every sports property. Facebook Watch may just become the platform on which to tell it.
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