Major League Baseball and Facebook today announced a deal to stream 25 games exclusively on the social network. Guess who leads off?
All of the games will take place on weekday afternoons, primarily Wednesdays. The agreement begins with the April 4 game between the Philadelphia Phillies and New York Mets. Viewers will be able to watch on smartphones, tablets, computers and other connected devices, including home TVs.
The games will be produced by the MLB Network, meaning they’ll have a broadcast look and feel. For Facebook, however, the rights allow for experimentation with things like social integration and graphics during the broadcast, enhancements popular with younger viewers drawn to digital platforms.
Facebook will also have rights to show the baseball games globally, though they won’t be exclusive outside the U.S. MLB and Facebook will update the schedule on a monthly basis.
The term exclusive is used, but it’s unclear if the game will also be broadcast on SNY and NBC Sports Philly, both of which are listed on the schedule as broadcasters. Either way, it doesn’t matter. This Facebook deal is interesting, but it likely won’t signal the start of mass streaming on social networks. Wednesday afternoon games are a way for the league to dip their toe into this sort of thing with no real downside.
The viewing experiences for these exclusive streaming deals have varied. The NFL is just fine on Amazon Prime, but it was mostly unwatchable on Twitter. The social network tried to overlay the coverage with simple curated hashtags of random ass Tweets rather than give users access to their own feed while watching the game, which is the thing most Twitter users want to interact with while watching an NFL game.
These streaming deals will just be about who can best distribute and, in some cases, produce the games. Netflix has sort of steered away from live events in favor of evergreen content, but Facebook, Twitter and Amazon seem more eager to test the waters for live sports. At the end of the day, though, sports will always be better viewed communally, on a large screen. That won’t necessarily preclude these companies from being involved, but it doesn’t seem to be the focus of what we’ve seen so far.
A problem for these social network streaming deals is that three-hour games are not designed to be consumed on mobile. It’s an unpleasant viewing experience to say the least. Mobile is at its best as a sidecar to what’s on a larger screen. My guess is that any significant deals will be built around a service that still favors a TV screen, like Amazon Prime. Facebook may be a player there, but that’s really not the case right now. We’ll see how this goes.