×

Why Facebook Wants NFL’s Thursday Night Football Live Games

Verizon, Amazon seen as other two leading candidates for over-the-top football package

Is Facebook ready for some football?

The social-media colossus is entering the scrum for global live-streaming rights to a selection of the National Football League’s 2016-17 games, anchored by next season’s “Thursday Night Football” matchups, according to three people familiar with Facebook’s plans. Recode previously reported Facebook’s interest in obtaining the NFL rights.

Facebook’s deal to stream pro-football games, if consummated, would mark its first major TV content deal. “It would be a watershed moment. The NFL is the marquee media property,” said VideoNuze analyst Will Richmond, who added that he has no direct knowledge of Facebook’s NFL ambitions.

Over the past two years, Facebook has been aggressively building out video features on the service. But in the past execs have said the focus would be on short-form content. “You are not going to come to Facebook to watch a movie or a TV show — that’s long-form stuff,” CEO Mark Zuckerberg told investors in 2014.

What’s changed? Facebook is now more willing to experiment and invest in premium media content to showcase its live streaming capabilities, according to an industry source: “Facebook Live is a priority for them now.”

And sports, in particular, are huge on Facebook: The company estimates 650 million of its users worldwide are sports fans. The NFL games also would dovetail very nicely with the recently launched Facebook Stadium, a hub that aggregates content and fan discussion about live sporting events.

Facebook and the NFL declined to comment.

Amazon.com and Verizon — which currently holds exclusive smartphone rights for NFL games through next season — are also among the parties seeking to grab the NFL’s 18-game OTT package, as previously reported by Variety. Amazon and Verizon are seen as the two other serious contenders with Facebook, sources said.

Apple, which had originally been keen to pick up the football package, is said to have cooled on the idea. Google, at this point, has not shown a desire to pay for NFL or any other live sports rights, according to sources.

The league is still in the process of collecting bids for the “TNF” streaming rights and still has a number of options for deals with distribution partners, according to a source familiar with the negotiations.

If Facebook does in fact bid for the NFL games, “That is a clear signal that it is moving beyond pure (user-generated content) with a goal of becoming a full-fledged media company,” said Peter Csathy, CEO of Manatt Digital Media, a business consulting and legal services firm.

Showing how hungry it is to expand the amount of high-profile live video distributed on Facebook, top execs this week met with Hollywood agencies and other companies to encourage more celebrities and media firms to use Facebook Live. It’s already been at work recruiting partners: For example, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences used Facebook Live to exclusively deliver red-carpet and backstage moments for this past Sunday’s Oscars.

But there’s a catch with the OTT rights the NFL is offering: Mobile is off the table, because Verizon Wireless has those locked up for at least one more year. Distributors will have rights for Web, connected-TV and tablet devices. For Facebook, that would reduce the value of those rights, given its heavy mobile focus — the company generated 80% of its ad revenue for the fourth quarter of 2015.

Verizon, for its part, wants to bring “Thursday Night Football” games to Go90, its free, ad-supported mobile video service, according to a source.

“Facebook is all about mobile,” Richmond said. “If Facebook isn’t getting mobile rights to the package, it would greatly diminish the value of the NFL deal.”

Another factor that will tamp down the OTT price tag for “TNF”: In the U.S., the NFL has sold the TV rights to CBS and NBC, which have five games apiece. Eight other games to be broadcast only on NFL Network will comprise Thursday night games, late-season Saturday match-ups and other games. And those networks all have rights to stream the games to U.S. pay-TV subscribers on an authenticated basis. Separately, CBS is talking to the NFL about expanding its distribution rights to include the CBS All Access subscription-streaming service starting next season.

Those factors make the “TNF” bundle different from the NFL’s first run at OTT. Last October, Yahoo had exclusive worldwide digital rights to the Oct. 25 Buffalo Bills-Jacksonville Jaguars game played in London. On TV, it was broadcast only in the teams’ local markets and in the U.K. Yahoo is interested in the “TNF” package but likely won’t be among the final bidders, one source said.

And what about YouTube? Google recently launched YouTube Red, an ad-free service with no ads, unlimited music and a selection of original content for $10 per month. For now, sports isn’t part of the plan for YouTube Red, with the company focused on producing scripted and unscripted material with homegrown digital talent. It’s worth noting that YouTube live-streamed a German soccer match in August last year in the U.S. under a partnership with Fox Sports; however, no rights fees were involved.

More Digital

  • How Netflix Uses Technology: A Look

    How Netflix Wants to Take on Its Competition in 2019 and Beyond

    “They’re going to do some great shows. I’m going to be envious.” Netflix CEO Reed Hastings practiced humility when he was asked about new competitors like Disney’s and Apple’s upcoming streaming services this week. “These are amazing, large, well-funded companies with very significant efforts,” he said. “But you do your best job when you have [...]

  • AVOD streaming video OTT users -

    Comcast Unveils 'Flex,' a Streaming Service for Internet Customers

    Comcast said it would unveil “Flex,” a hub for its Internet-only customers that allows them to stream and purchase shows and movies, the latest effort by a traditional cable provider to latch on to customers who are migrating to broadband services, The Philadelphia cable giant will also make free, ad-supported services available via the service, [...]

  • splice

    Splice Raises $57.5 Million in Latest Funding Round

    Splice, a favorite of music creators that allows access to a library of three million rights-cleared sounds, announced today that the company closed a Series C funding round at $57.5 million. That brings Splice’s total amount raised to roughly $102 million since its launch in 2013. It raised a Series B in November of 2017. [...]

  • Facebook's 'Red Table Talk' Garners Daytime

    Facebook's 'Red Table Talk' Garners Daytime Emmy Nomination

    Facebook is now in the awards hunt: Its popular original series “Red Table Talk” hosted by Jada Pinkett Smith was nominated for a 2019 Daytime Emmy. It appears to be the first-ever Daytime Emmy Awards nomination for a Facebook-funded show, although a company rep was unable to confirm that. “Red Table Talk” is nominated in [...]

  • MLB-TV

    MLB.TV Joins Lineup on Amazon's Prime Video Channels

    Amazon has launched MLB.TV on Prime Video Channels for Prime members in the U.S., just in time for the start of Major League Baseball’s 2019 regular season start next week. The MLB.TV package provides regular-season out-of-market baseball games, both live and on-demand. Prime members in the U.S. can subscribe to MLB.TV for $24.99 per month, [...]

  • Tencent Music Shares Drop Despite Solid

    Tencent Music Shares Drop Despite Solid First Earnings Report

    Proving that good is not always good enough, Tencent Music Entertainment shares fell 9 percent after the Chinese company released its 2018 earnings, wiping out $2.7 billion in market capitalization of what is arguably the biggest audio music service in the world. Chalk it up to big expectations and a short track record: Wednesday’s earnings [...]

  • PewDiePie - YouTube

    PewDiePie vs. T-Series: YouTube Channels Keep Battling for No. 1 Spot

    UPDATED, 3/21: The back-and-forth competition for YouTube’s No. 1 spot continues. T-Series on Thursday again pulled ahead of YouTube’s PewDiePie as the No. 1 most-subscribed channel on the platform — but again the vlogger-gamer-comedian fans’ rallied behind him to retake the position. In a months-long symbolic running battle for the title, PewDiePie and his fans have [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content