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Facebook Wants MLB Live-Streaming Rights, Which Twitter Already Has for 2017 Season

Variety logo Variety 2/22/2017 Todd Spangler
© Provided by Variety

Mark Zuckerberg’s vision for Facebook to make the world a better place apparently includes live-streaming America’s pastime to the masses.

Facebook is in discussions with Major League Baseball to secure rights to stream one game per week free on the social platform, as first reported by Reuters.

It wouldn’t be a groundbreaking deal, if it comes to fruition: Twitter last summer inked a pact with MLB for rights to live-stream one baseball game per week, which will be exclusive among free over-the-top distributors. Twitter will start a weekly MLB game for the upcoming 2017 season, with the specific schedule yet to be determined. (Also under the MLB Advanced Media deal, Twitter has rights to NHL games.)

But the talks are more evidence of Facebook’s efforts to boost video viewing, which includes plans to acquire original scripted and unscripted shows under head of global creative Rick Van Veen. Reps for Facebook and MLB declined to comment.

Like Twitter, Facebook sees live sports as particularly valuable content for driving user engagement. Last week Facebook kicked off its deal with Univision Communications to stream 46 soccer matches from Mexico’s Liga MX, including playoff games, in English to Facebook users in the U.S. And last year the social giant was in talks with the NFL for a package of “Thursday Night Football” games, before Twitter secured worldwide rights to those games.

For MLB, a deal with Facebook would give it the potential to expose the league to a global audience of more than 1.8 billion people. One possible sticking point for MLB: Facebook doesn’t currently have an established advertising model for live video, although the social player says it has been testing different approaches.

Twitter, by contrast, does sell and serve ads against its live programming. Under its MLBAM deal, Twitter’s ad revenue from the live games will go to the league up until a certain threshold is met, after which the parties will split additional ad revenue.

Facebook has been making changes and rolling out new features to encourage viewers to watch longer-form video — not just short bits like Chewbacca Mom. Those include plans to launch apps for Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV and other connected-TV devices, as well modifying the News Feed algorithm to display popular long-form videos.

Separately, MLB this week named Michael Paull, formerly Amazon’s VP of digital video, as CEO of BAMTech, the streaming-video venture in which Disney owns a 33% stake. It’s worth noting that Amazon has been seeking to obtain rights to live sporting events as well, seeking to add more value to Prime Video.

Pictured above: The Chicago Cubs’ Anthony Rizzo hits a two-run home run against the New York Mets in a July 2016 game.

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