Facebook: too early to speculate on Premier League rights bid

But tech giant says new Watch tab will be perfect for live sports

Chelsea, Premier League trophy
Chelsea celebrate after winning the 2016-17 Premier League title
(Image credit: Michael Regan/Getty Images)

Facebook’s sports chief said yesterday that it was too early to speculate if the social media platform will bid for the rights to show live Premier League matches - but refused to rule out the possibility.

Broadcasting rights for the 2019-2022 seasons will be up for auction early next year and there is speculation that tech giants such as Facebook and Amazon will compete alongside current holders Sky Sports and BT Sport.

While failing to confirm or deny the rumours, Facebook’s head of global sports partnerships, Dan Reed, did say that his firm’s newest innovation - the Watch tab, a home for original video content - is the perfect platform for watching live sports. It was officially launched in the US last month, but has not yet been rolled out worldwide.

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Speaking at the Leaders in Sport summit in London, Reed said: “It’s too early to speculate on what we might do, but there’s no question that Facebook Watch is a great home for all forms of live sport.

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“It’s early days. The Watch product, which is designed for intentional long-form viewing, has only been available for a month in the US. These things are evolving over time, and our metrics are evolving all the time. This is going to be gradual, but we’re excited.”

Reed was also asked whether, rather than making a solo bid, Facebook might be part of a joint-bid on a sub-licensing agreement.

“It’s way too early to speculate on how we might participate in something like that or whether we [will] participate in something like that,” said Reed.

“But we have partnerships with broadcasters and rights holders. With Fox Sport in the US, we distribute Champions League games that they already have rights to that are not distributed on their linear TV channels.

“[We also] have a partnership with Univision to distribute Liga MX games in English - they distribute in Spanish on television, they distribute games in English on Facebook.

“You would have to ask Fox, but I don’t think when they bid for Champions League rights in the United States that they would be using Facebook as a distribution platform for some games that they have on television.”

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Facebook has a network of around 700 million sports fans, so the move into live action appears to be a no-brainer. Just last month Facebook bid $600m (£459m) for the Indian Premier League (IPL) cricket rights, but lost out to Star India.

Despite missing out on the IPL, Reed insists Facebook is an ideal platform for live sports.

“We see first-hand on the platform how positive the IPL is in India,” he said. “If you think about our mission to bring the world closer together, nothing does that in India like the IPL.

“When you look at the data, you see the engagement and the distribution of that kind of content on our platform, we do believe that live sports are a great fit for a platform like Facebook. It’s inherently social, it builds communities, it fits with our investment in live video, so we thought that was an opportunity that was interesting.”

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No date has been set yet for the European launch of the Watch tab, but once rolled out it will be available on mobile, desktop and via connected TV sets. The key aim of the new platform, says Reed, is to provide users with a longer viewing experience.

“That’s why we are launching Watch. Certainly, short-form video does incredibly well in the news feed, where people are spending 40 to 50 minutes a day on Facebook and checking it 14 times a day.

“Watch is a place where we can support intentional viewing of episodic content of longer form. We think it’s a great home for a variety of content, including live sports. In the first six months of 2017, we had 3,500 live sports events broadcast on Facebook - that was before Watch.

“We hope that Watch will be an even better home for that sort of stuff and drive even more value to the publishers and distributors.”

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