Facebook and 'Thursday Night Football': A perfect match?

Facebook wants to buy rights to stream football games on its platform, because live video plus millions of football fans makes for a perfect advertising opportunity.

Dado Ruvic/Reuters/File
A man poses with a magnifier in front of a Facebook logo on display in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina.

As part of its ongoing campaign to fill the Facebook news feed with highly engaging video, the company now wants a crack at the millions of "Thursday Night Football" fans. It has appealed to the National Football League about buying digital rights to live-stream its next 18-game season, a deal that last month set NBC and CBS back by $225 million each to televise five games, and to stream them online.

If Facebook wins the deal over competing bidders – Amazon.com, Verizon and potentially Yahoo – it could package games with pre- or post-game video features, in the locker room or on the field itself, according to Variety.

“There’s a lot of interesting things we can do with sports,” Dan Rose, Facebook’s vice president of partnerships told the magazine Monday. “If you think about how people engage on Facebook today, it’s not really around watching three hours of video,” he said.

But bite-size live video, buttressed by celebrity-studded content, could keep more viewers on Facebook longer, giving the company ample time to serve up advertising.

And the NFL is huge. The "Thursday Night Football" season debut last year on CBS and the NFL Network was the most-watched and highest-rated game in the broadcast's history, according to the NFL, seen by an average of 21 million viewers. The league already has 13.5 million followers on Facebook.

According to Rose’s interview with Variety, Facebook users watch live broadcasts on the platform three times longer than recorded video, which already gets 8 billion video views per day on average, Facebook says. It is no wonder, then, that Facebook has been pushing live streaming aggressively since last summer when it introduced Facebook Live for celebrities, including actors, athletes, musicians, and politicians, who together have 900 million followers, the company says.

“Our message to the industry, to the folks we partner with, is you now have a production studio in your pocket – and a way to reach an audience that’s new and different,” Mr. Rose told Variety. “It’s unscripted, it’s authentic and it’s interactive,” he said.

The “Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon” recently used the feature to show the host rehearsing his opening monologue. Rihanna, Chris Rock, Ted Cruz and Hillary Clinton’s staff have also used it.

Despite the impressive engagement numbers, advertisers couldn’t make money through video on the platform.

But in July, Facebook started to change that, introducing a plan to share ad revenue from mobile videos with video creators – 55 percent goes to the video creator and 45 percent to Facebook. The program started with a few partners so far, including Tastemade, NBA, Hearst, Funny or Die, and Fox Sports.

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