Live sports streaming is widely seen as the next battleground over content rights, and Facebook Inc (NASDAQ:FB) has just announced a major move with a deal to stream 25 Major League Baseball games. One analyst now sees the stage set for a face-off between Facebook and Amazon.com, Inc. (NASDAQ:AMZN), although in reality, this is a battle that’s been building slowly for years. It will be interesting to see what Twitter Inc (NYSE:TWTR) does next, given that it was one of the earliest internet companies to dive into live sports.
In a note this week, GBH Insights analyst Daniel Ives highlighted live sports streaming as the next major area of content that’s seeing a land grab of sorts going on right now. Facebook announced last week that it has struck a deal to live-stream 25 weekly games for Major League Baseball this year via its Watch platform.
The games will be shown on the MLB Live Facebook Page, and it’s the sports league’s first distribution deal involving digital rights only. The value of the deal is unclear, but it’s been reported to be in the $30 billion to $35 billion range. Thirty MLB clubs approved it unanimously, a sign that sports leagues are finally coming around to the idea of online distribution of their coveted and highly protected live content.
Ives believes this deal is just the first of many live sports streaming deals for Facebook, and he thinks the next 12 to 18 months will be important as online companies snap up the rights to stream live sports. He also notes that Disney is preparing to launch ESPN Plus within the next year, which he describes as “the epicenter to [CEO Bob] Iger’s master streaming initiatives.”
He pointed out that along with Fox’s other entertainment assets, Disney is acquiring 22 regional sports networks to its ESPN, which creates “a clear sports juggernaut from a content and distribution perspective.” Ives believes that ESPN’s live sports streaming efforts are finally getting on the right track.
Facebook isn’t the only internet firm to reveal a major deal in live sports streaming recently. Twitter announced that it has struck a deal with Major League Soccer for the next three years to stream 24 games each season. The micro-blogging platform won a deal to stream NFL football games two years ago, but Amazon snapped up the rights to the games last year.
Last month, there were reports that Twitter was facing off with Amazon, YouTube and Verizon over the rights to stream NFL games next season. Variety reported that Facebook had dropped out of the bidding for Thursday Night Football. Of note, Netflix CEO Reed Hastings told the media during a recent press conference at the company’s headquarters in Hollywood that they will never stream live content like sports or news, so that’s one streaming firm that Facebook and Amazon don’t have to worry about as they battle each other for live sports programming.
Ives believes Amazon is in a good position to win the rights to live-stream Thursday Night Football again because of the success it had in the last season, and he thinks the company is in a good position to disrupt the live sports content industry further. He added that 2021 will be an important year in the world of live sports streaming because that’s when most of the current media deals for the NFL, MLB and NHL end, opening up a window for Amazon or Facebook to grow their sports content.