The world’s largest social network has struck a deal with broadcaster Univision to livestream matches from Mexico’s top football division Liga MX, which it calls the “most watched soccer league in the US”.
The deal kicks off this Saturday (18 February) with the Club America versus Chivas broadcast, the first of 46 games that will run through the playoffs.
While the deal arrives seven weeks into the current season, the debut fixture is the biggest in the country, giving both Facebook and the American-Spanish broadcaster an early gauge as to how far the audience online could stretch.
Should the game live up to its billing then it could also woo new fans to the league, a point that could prove for lucrative for those teams covered in the deal. Club America, Chivas, Chiapas, Cruz Azul, Leon,Monterrey, Puebla, Queretaro, Santos Laguna, Toluca, UANL, Tigrest and UNAM Pumas are the clubs that have deals in place with Univision to broadcast their matches in the US. Pachuca, which has a deal with broadcaster Telemundo, and Atlas, Morelia, Tijuana and Veracruz which are on Azteca will all miss out on the added exposure.
The live-streamed matches will not be advertised on Univision’s Deportes Facebook page and Facebook video tab for now because the broadcaster is still experimenting with the right advertising model. If the games prove a hit, then the media owner will want to lock in a strategy sooner rather than later in an attempt to capitalise on the English-speaking audience it wants to attract.
“There has never been an option for us to have a dedicated English language viewing experience," Univision’s chief commercial officer Tonia O’Connor is reported to have said to Bloomberg. “Facebook represents that for us. Also, there are consumers out there who just don’t sit in front of a big screen anymore.”
She points to a trend that has seen Facebook and Twitter circle a myriad of content types such as scripted and unscripted shows in an attempt to give people more reasons to stay within their social networks and others enough justification to join. Live sport in particular could be key to this strategy if rights owners are prepared to untangle complicated models that have left them inextricably linked to traditional television companies. Indeed, Facebook seemed to hint at this last year when its head of sports partnerships Dan Reed ruled out the social network “actively” bidding for rights.
It is clear that Facebook is still testing the waters regarding live sports streaming as there will be no advertising within these games," opined Dror Ginzberg, co-founder and chief executive of Wochit said.
"The deal makes perfect sense for Facebook as its most popular pages are dominated by football teams like Barcelona and also personalities like Cristiano Ronaldo, who has over 119 million ‘likes’.
"Much like Twitter’s foray this past season with the NFL, Facebook is dipping its toe into live sports broadcasting and experimenting to see what works best with audiences and also how they monetise this. Meanwhile, as sports audiences increasingly move online, traditional TV broadcasters are actually increasing their prices, with BT beginning to charge its customers for access to its sports channels for the first time.”
Media experts believe it was only a matter of time before Facebook secured more sports given the popularity of streaming video, which now accounts for over two-thirds of all internet traffic according to VN Global. Indeed, some observers have even branded live-streaming a “ticking time bomb” for traditional broadcasters like Sky which has already seen sharp declines in viewing of live matches amid the convergence of media. The point being that as Wi-Fi and broadband become global, the opportunity grows for new media and social players to amortise costs across multiple markets, for example BT Sport is only in the UK, whereas Twitter is global.
That complexity is evidenced in the breadth of the industry’s experimentation with live-streaming to date. Where BT Sports has argued live-streaming on social media is only commercially viable if it gets viewing data from those platforms,La Liga now wants to use the technology to rival the Premier League’s dominance of broadcaster’s wallets. Neither broadcaster or rights owner is yet to arrive at the answer but all our agreement that traditional TV subscription broadcasters face fierce competition from existing threats like Netflix, while a host of new providers will also be jumping into the market.