- Facebook isn't bidding for the rights to stream the National Football League's "Thursday Night Football" games next season, a person familiar with the decision told Bloomberg. Amazon bought the streaming rights for the 2017 games for $50 million but hasn't said whether it will bid again.
- Facebook's lack of interest in the NFL's Thursday programming shouldn't be seen as an indication that the company won't bid for sports programming in the future, the unnamed source told Bloomberg. The social network has bid for NFL's Thursday games in the past. Facebook also has a multiyear deal with the NFL to distribute post-game highlights on its platform, which has more than 2 billion users worldwide.
- NBCUniversal last month acquired rights to stream "Sunday Night Football" to mobile phones, while Disney's ESPN bought the streaming rights to "Monday Night Football." ESPN already had rights to stream its NFL-branded studio shows on phones, tablets, computers and connected TVs.
Facebook might be taking a cautionary route in its approach to sports streaming by holding back from betting on league that's in a ratings free fall but is commanding heftier price tags for its digital content rights. Amazon paid out $50 million to secure the rights to 10 Thursday Night Football games this season — plus a reported additional $30 million in free marketing and promotions for the NFL — compared to the $10 million Twitter paid just two years ago for a similar package.
The average audience for an NFL game fell 9.7% to 14.9 million viewers in 2017 from a year earlier, when viewership dropped 8%, according to CNBC. The decline stems in part from a growing trend toward cord-cutting, and another frequently cited reason is the overexposure of games. Some marketers speculate that the increasing politicization of the sport, and specifically anthem protests where players have kneeled to raise awareness about police brutality, have turned some viewers off, which could extend to advertisers as well. The Thursday and Sunday NFL primetime games saw the biggest drop in viewership last season.
Still, NFL games were responsible for 33 of the top 50 programs on TV in 2017, the league said. Facebook has deep pockets to bid on sports programming and hasn't shied away from the space in the past. The company's streamed live Major League Baseball, Major League Soccer, college football and European soccer games. In December, Recode reported that Facebook was looking to hire an executive whose main responsibility will be to negotiate sports streaming deals, operating with a budget of a "few billion dollars."
Traditional broadcasters have come to see this as a threat. Rupert Murdoch, the chairman of 21st Century Fox who's selling the company's film and TV production assets to Disney, said Facebook's $600 million bid for streaming rights to cricket matches in India's top league was a "warning shot" that the social network was about to dive into sports, Fox Business reported.