Until recently, Facebook’s interest in video seemed largely confined to short-form clips of cats and dogs, or live-streaming of news events by individual users and some media outlets. But there are increasing signs that the giant social network has much more ambitious goals when it comes to absorbing television-style content.
In one of the more recent signs of this expanding interest, Reuters reports that Facebook is in talks with Major League Baseball about live-streaming one game every week.
“Facebook is aggressively going after sports content and they are now one of a number of competitors to traditional media outlets that are going after sports programming,” sports-media consultant Lee Berke told the wire service. “It makes perfect sense that they would be going after name brand properties like the MLB.”
The social network also has a deal with Spanish-language broadcaster Univision to stream more than 45 Mexican soccer matches in 2017, and it has live-streamed everything from basketball games to table-tennis competitions in one-off deals over the past year.
There’s no guarantee that Facebook’s talks with Major League Baseball will result in a deal. The company has also had discussions with the National Football League and other sports leagues in the past, and many of those have not come to fruition.
Last year, Facebook was in talks with the NFL about streaming rights—as was Amazon—but the league eventually cut a deal with Twitter (TWTR) instead. The arrangement, which reportedly cost $10 million, saw Twitter agree to live-stream video of games that were also being broadcast by CBS (CBS) and NBC (CMCSA).
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At the time, there were reports that the social network backed away from an NFL deal in part because the league wanted to include advertising in the streams, while Facebook wanted the broadcasts to be advertising free. The NFL also reportedly thought that the social network undervalued its content.
The fact that it is now in discussions with MLB shows Facebook’s interest in live sports in particular hasn’t waned. If anything, it seems to be picking up steam. And that’s not all the social network wants. It has also made significant moves over the past few months to expand into TV-style content in a number of ways.
For example, Facebook hired CollegeHumor founder Ricky Van Veen last year, and he has been aggressively looking for a wide range of video programming, including traditional scripted, episodic TV shows. The company has said it is looking to acquire existing content as well as financing the creation of that content.
Facebook also recently announced that it will be releasing an app for Apple’s set-top box, which will theoretically allow anyone streaming video from the social network to do so on the big screen in their living rooms — something that would be especially desirable for live sporting events like baseball or football.
When it comes to acquiring the rights to sports broadcasts, Facebook (FB) clearly has a lot more to offer than Twitter does—including a potential audience of more than a billion people, as well as vast quantities of cash.
At the same time, however, sports leagues and other providers are likely to be somewhat leery of handing over too much of their content to the giant social network, for the same reason that publishers and media companies are: Because by taking control of the distribution of that content, Facebook stands to gain at the expense of those producing it.
Much like traditional TV providers like Time Warner (TWX) or CBS, Major League Baseball and the NFL are looking for new routes to reach viewers (and advertisers). But doing such deals also threatens to cannibalize their existing business models.
The major sports leagues have already sold the rights to broadcast their games to traditional TV networks for billions of dollars, in contracts that in some cases extend through the next decade. Selling the digital-streaming rights could bring in new revenue, but it could also eat into those traditional TV audiences and antagonize network partners.
Scripted TV shows and other types of content are a lot more likely to be an easy win for Facebook because it has the resources to go head-to-head with other bidders such as Amazon (AMZN), YouTube (GOOGL), and even Netflix (NFLX) or Apple (AAPL).
But live sports is still where the largest audiences—and therefore the most money—is to be found.