Day without Facebook: will the web giant invest in sports and TV rights?


Each year, February 28 is the international day without Facebook, intended to alarm about its preponderance in our lives. But there is one aspect of our daily life that the social network has not yet (too) invaded: sport and the broadcasting of sporting events.

However, after an observation phase, Facebook made the first investments, especially in football and cricket, with a check for 600 million dollars in India. Some believed that a wave of investment was starting. But today, the American giant already seems to be on the decline, unlike Amazon.

A spectacular entrance

In 2017, Facebook showed its muscles in the TV rights market, as sports economist Mickaël Terrien explains. “They were in the observation phase, then they went on the attack. They took an interest in sports as part of their Watch video platform, which remains unknown to users. They made an offer of 600 million euros for cricket in India, which was ultimately a failure “.

Difficult to make profitable, this offer especially launched the mirage of Facebook flying to the rescue of TV rights around the world. Author of a book on football TV rights, Pierre Maes deciphers: “Facebook was widely used by clubs and leagues as a threat to incumbent broadcasters in 2017, 2018, after this $ 600 million cricket bid. “. The implication: “we no longer need the traditional channels, the GAFAM (Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple and Microsoft) will get their hands on the wallet”.

The recruitment of a man came to reinforce this conviction a few months later in 2018: Peter Huton, legend of the TV rights market. “It happens a few days before the submission of offers for the rights of the Premier League, we learn that Facebook hires Peter Huton. He is a man passed everywhere, by agencies, by Eurosport, he is the man at the origin of the enormous deal on the Olympic Games with Discovery. When this commitment is made public, everyone thinks that Facebook will pay its cash on sport “, abounds Pierre Maes.

Except no, not at all. In the end, the social network adopts a cautious, even retreating strategy. “At the end of 2018, Huton explains that they are in a learning situation, looking for partnerships rather than exclusive deals. They confirm that they have been in this strategy since: that of spending little, of making partnerships with leagues, and from time to time they take cheap rights in uncompetitive markets “, adds Pierre Maes.

Inconclusive trials

Concretely, Facebook has since offered the broadcast of the Champions League … but in South America. The same for La Liga, broadcast in Asia. “Facebook in recent months has confirmed that they will not be the saviors of the industry “, slice Pierre Maes. Why this decline? “No idea. There has been a change of strategy, but the GAFAM speak very little “, says Maes, who makes the following hypothesis: “They must find it too expensive, and they don’t want to do a classic pay-TV business to make it profitable “. And the specialist to go further: “Cricket was to develop Facebook in India “.

Author of a thesis on TV rights, Antoine Feuillet abounds: “They have a bunch of data on their users, thanks to which they must have observed that broadcasting sports does not increase traffic on Facebook, and therefore is not profitable. “. Because the primary goal of Facebook, like any social network, is to retain the user’s attention as much as possible.

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In this sense, the sports broadcasting model does not necessarily stick to the use we have of Facebook, explains Antoine Feuillet: “People don’t spend 90 minutes on the same content on social media. In other words, the traditional model of sport, with a long distribution, does not correspond to their main model “. The other problem is that Facebook distributes its sports content on its Watch platform, which is free.

To make the business profitable, you have to go through advertising: “Watch has very few users. It’s a different economic model, it’s complicated to live only on advertising such expensive rights. This is how Canal + gradually killed TF1 in the Champions League matches “, recalls Mickaël Terrien. But the economist rejects the hypothesis of a lack of means to explain the decline of Facebook: “They have a relatively low budget of $ 1.4 billion per year compared to $ 12 billion for Netflix for example, but that may be enough to obtain rights. The real explanation is their economic model which is closer to YouTube than to Netflix, because it is based on advertising “. In truth, Facebook has been undergoing major changes since last year.

Looking back, but on the lookout

So much so that for Mickaël Terrien the question is no longer to know why they are less ambitious on sports rights, “but rather are they going to go there? “. Antoine Feuillet replies: “They are nevertheless interested in rights that could arise, especially in the current phase of recession. It could be the occasion, otherwise they will position themselves on other types of products. The proof is with their latest acquisitions, which concern highlights in cricket or NFL, so rather match summaries. These are secondary rights but more logical for their platform “. Facebook therefore remains in the observation phase. “Unlike Netflix or Amazon Prime, they don’t need premium content “, recalls Mickaël Terrien.

And if we should not expect to see Facebook blaze, it is for a simple reason according to Antoine Feuillet: “The GAFAMs have such mastery of data that they are the most able to choose. They will never put in more money than they need. For the moment the dream of GAFAM who fly to the rescue of sport, it is a mirage “.

On this, all observers agree, like Pierre Maes: “Frankly we can still say that if there was interest, it would already be done. They are not in this model of rights that are relisted on a regular basis. They are not very content, they do not produce series like Netflix. They are more content generated by their users that, by definition, they do not pay “.

And the author of the “Football TV Rights Business” concludes: “Beyond Facebook, we can even say that there will be no GAFAM in the TV rights market. Amazon makes reasonable investments, reasoned on the basis of activity. They will not be the saviors of the environment, they want to attract people to their Prime platform, sport is a hook, nothing more “.

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