Facebook Watch and the rise of new sports distribution platforms

New platforms for the distribution of television programming have emerged over the recent past – and sports fans will have a greater choice of where they can view their favourite events. And in the case of one of the recent entrants, Facebook, its new platform called Watch will enable those fans to communicate with each other and exchange comments about the events they are watching.

The company says that Watch is an update to the Video tab, which was launched last year to give people a dedicated place to watch video on Facebook. The Video tab gave people a feed of videos, but not a way to reliably catch up with publishers and creators. Watch is the next step.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg says: “We believe it’s possible to rethink a lot of experiences through the lens of building community – including watching video. Watching a show doesn’t have to be passive. It can be a chance to share an experience and bring people together who care about the same things. We hope Watch will be home to a wide range of shows – from reality to comedy to live sports.”

Viewers will be able to interact with both live and on-demand content in Watch in several different ways. For example, posting observations in the comments section of a show, sharing their favourite shows with friends and reacting to different moments during programmes.

Two tabs within Watch enable users to personalise their content so that favourite events can be readily flagged up. The first tab is named Discover and is a way to find new shows through friends or the communities of people about whom the user is involved. Sections include ‘Most Talked About’, which highlights shows that spark conversation, and ‘Shows Your Friends Are Watching’, which helps viewers connect with friends about shows they too are following.

The second is called Watchlist and allows each viewer to catch up with the programmes he or she would normally follow. If a user follows a show, new episodes will automatically appear in the Watchlist. In short, it’s a central place on Facebook to find and watch favourite shows. For example, live sports events, such as MLB, Liga MX and MLS games, will often appear at the top of Watch while they are live so that viewers can easily notice them. They can also catch up on the sports shows from the Watchlist.

Initial reach and future plans

To begin with, Watch will be available only in the US, and will include events such as MLB Live, the home for a live blackout-free Major League Baseball game every Friday night; Liga MX, showing live Liga MX matches; the World Surf League’s WSL Surfing Sundays, which captures action from World Surf League Championship Tour events; and MLS’ ExtraTime Live that provides viewers with the ability to choose their own soccer adventure. Andrew Wiebe, David Gass and their guests present all the interactive action, analysis, and incidents from the weekend in Major League Soccer.

However, Facebook is looking to expand its Watch service to include sports from other areas. And in that connection, in June it announced a partnership with Fox Sports that will bring live 2017-2018 UEFA Champions League matches to Facebook. The agreement calls for two live matches per match day in the group stage, four in the knock-out rounds, and four quarter-final matches. Half of these matches will be broadcast in English, while the other half will be broadcast in Spanish.

Daniel Danker, director of product for Facebook’s Watch, believes that watching video on Facebook has the incredible power to connect people, spark conversation, and foster community. “We’ve learned from Facebook Live that people’s comments and reactions to a video are often as much a part of the experience as the video itself. So when you watch a show, you can see comments and connect with friends and other viewers while watching, or participate in a dedicated Facebook Group for the show. Watch is a platform for all creators and publishers to find an audience, build a community of passionate fans, and earn money for their work.”

Facebook is funding some shows to inform its partners about episodic and community-driven shows that are built for mobile. Its goal with funding content is to gather feedback and share learnings with its community. Over time, it wants to help a great number of creators to make money through revenue sharing products. At launch, the content Facebook has funded will be a small percentage of the shows available in Watch, however, over time, this number will become smaller, as more and more creators share their shows on Facebook.

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