In the very uneven market that is college football television, Conference USA and the Mountain West Conference are a long way from the Southeastern Conference and Big Ten. But Facebook Inc. (FB - Get Report) may simply be starting slow.
Beginning next month, the world's largest social media platform will live stream 15 college football games from schools such as Louisiana Tech, San Diego State and the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. The audiences of those games are likely to be modest. But to watch them, viewers will have to go online to Facebook. Those games won't be broadcast anywhere else.
They'll be exclusive to Facebook, and its soon-to-launch Watch platform.
That's a big departure from recent streaming deals between tech companies and sports leagues. Amazon.com Inc. (AMZN - Get Report) , for example, beat out Twitter Inc. (TWTR - Get Report) earlier this year for the right to stream 10 Thursday night National Football League games that CBS's (CBS - Get Report) CBS Corp. or Comcast Corp.'s (CMCSA - Get Report) NBC also will broadcast. For Amazon, the NFL contract gives the world's largest online retailer NFL games to stream free to its Amazon Prime subscribers the world over.
You'll need to be an Amazon Prime member to stream those games on your digital device. Prime costs $99 per year and provides for discounts on shipping most items purchased at Amazon, among other benefits. In other words, Amazon paying the NFL $50 million to stream the 10 games is really all about attracting and sustaining customers. That Twitter paid just $10 million to stream 10 games for in 2016 serves to underscore the escalating price of sports television rights.
Which brings us back to Facebook. Up until now, Facebook's streaming exploits have been limited to soccer and surfing. By year's end, Facebook will have exclusively live streamed 22 Major League Soccer games and 46 Mexican League soccer matches with English-language commentary. The broadcasts are handled by Univision Deportes, a unit of Univision Communciations Inc. Championships of the the World Surf League also will run on Facebook Live.
In the coming weeks, Facebook will make its Watch tab available to its 2 billion users, showcasing original video shows. The college football games also will air live on Watch. The platform is being rolled out by Facebook as part of a plan to centralize content only available at the website or through its mobile and TV apps. It's another step in the accelerating fusion of tech and media.
Of course, Facebook, Amazon and Apple Inc. (AAPL - Get Report) don't make their money selling entertainment. Media content is simply a means to attract and sustain customers, or in the case of Facebook and Alphabet Inc.'s (GOOGL - Get Report) Google, advertisers and eyeballs. Apple, which earlier this summer poached film executives Jamie Erlicht and Zack Van Amburg from Sony Pictures Television, has budgeted at least $1 billion to create as many as 10 original shows to stream over Apple Music, its subscription service that binds together its many hardware products, The Wall Street Journal reported on Aug. 16.
Apple hasn't gotten into sports yet. That could certainly happen, though, given its aspirations to have a larger presence in premium programming.
Facebook has enlisted Stadium Live to broadcast the nine Conference USA and six Mountain West games. Being Facebook, the games are a means to keep people on the site by posting comments, photos and videos. Although the games are likely only to be watched by alumni and current students of Miami University of Ohio and New Mexico State, that also might change.
Rights to broadcast football games of the Southeastern Conference, currently held by CBS and ESPN, a unit of Walt Disney Co. (DIS - Get Report) , come up for renewal in 2024. It's not crazy to imagine that Facebook could be a bidder. Could a play for professional football follow?
Facebook shares on Thursday afternoon were down 0.8% to $167.34.
Facebook, Comcast, Apple and Alphabet are holdings in Jim Cramer's Action Alerts PLUS Charitable Trust Portfolio. Want to be alerted before Cramer and the AAP team buy or sell FB, CMCSA, AAPL and GOOGL? Learn more now.
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Editors' Pick: Originally published on Aug. 24.