In a further move into live sports streaming, Facebook is reported to have bought the rights to the English Premier League games for three seasons beginning in 2019 in Thailand, Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. Unconfirmed reports today gave a value of $260 million for the entire cycle of games included in the contract.
Rights to the Premier League are currently held by pay TV broadcasters BeInSports and PPTV in Cambodia, Laos and Thailand and by V+ and VTV in Vietnam.
The importance of social media to live sports has increased exponentially in the last few years; with social media platforms giving viewers the opportunity to engage with sport events before, during and after they take place. According to Nielsen, the 2018 Super Bowl final in February generated 170 million social media interactions, of which 122.1 million were on Facebook, on the day. This compared to a TV audience of 103 million. Now, social media have begun to acquire rights as wellto add coverage of the event itself.
Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg said during a conference call last year that the company would seek to acquire live sports with the aim of ‘creating some anchor content’ to draw people to the social media site to watch video. Its key moves have included the launch of Facebook Live in 2016 and Facebook Watch, a rebrand of its Video tab, in 2017. Facebook Watch, available only in the US, has so far included live streams of Wednesday afternoon and Friday night MLB baseball games, MLS and Liga MX football and more niche events like the World Surf League.
The entry of new media players into live sports as been widely expected, with Amazon also entering the field with rights to the NFL, ATP and US Open tennis and, most recently, a package of Premier League rights in the UK. What is significant so far is that despite their deep pockets, the likes of Amazon, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter have generally been cautious about their investments, unwilling to trigger a new wave of rights inflation.
Facebook is targeting Asia because pay TV ARPUs are relatively low (which means pay TV companies would be reluctant to enter a bidding war) and mobile phone ownership high. The Premier League also enjoys a healthy following in Asia (one club, Leicester City, is Thai-owned). In addition, Asia Pacific accounted for 39% of Facebook's monthy active userbase in the fourth quarter of 2017, but 16% of its worldwide ad revenues. It would be a surprise if Facebook introduced a subscription model to monteise its investment in the Premier League rights, and could seek to recoup its investment via advertising and bundling deals with local telecoms companies.