The numbers are in from Facebook’s foray into broadcasting MLB games. The Sporting News is reporting that across the 25 games in which Facebook had the exclusive broadcasting rights, there was an astonishing 123 million viewers. The April 18 Royals - Blue Jays matchup led the way at 7.1 million viewers.
Of course, Facebook’s definition of viewer is quite liberal. They define it as having the video open for just 3 seconds, which is pretty pathetic. I know a lot of people who have video autoplay on their feeds, so as they’re scrolling, if they stop for 3 seconds at a baseball game, they become a statistic.
In real life, according to the handy little tracker they have on Facebook Watch, there were anywhere from 20,000 to 100,000 watching the games. In the GameThread here for that game on April 18, we reported 76,000 at one point. Obviously, it wasn’t the same 76,000 through the whole game, but to go from that number to conclude that 7.1 million people “watched” that game is quite the jump.
Also based on their skewed data, they are reporting that the average age of viewers was 20 years younger than those that watch on TV. Be prepared for those numbers to be thrown around a lot when hearing people sing praises of the Facebook Watch era.
So because of this success, Sports Pro Media is reporting that the partnership is likely to be extended into 2019 as well, because how can you ignore a viewership of nearly 5 million per game!
Now obviously there are some pluses to having it on Facebook. The games become much more accessible to a huge audience, while also being free* for anyone to watch. And that’s really what they wanted out of this - to expand the game and bring in a new wave of fans. Their numbers say they were successful, but I hope for next year they actually find a better way of tracking viewership.
Their broadcast style is completely different than what we’re used to. For the current baseball fan, it was an unwelcome change, but for the audience they were trying to attract, it was probably at least somewhat the right style. They had a lot of interaction with the players and managers as the game was ongoing, a nice feature for sure. But they also allowed fans to interact with the broadcast crew, which led to some rather awkward topics of conversation.
There was also the annoying popups of conversations and emojis flowing over the screen. That were a huge nuisance not only for the people who didn’t know how to get rid of them, but also for people that flipped back and forth between windows and that feature would be refreshed. Grant Brisbee wrote an excellent article about Facebook watch, and how annoying parts of it was.
The one feature that I did like, and I would like MLB.tv to adopt, is that they never left the stadium for mid-inning breaks. There were interviews, special features and games that they played over the breaks, instead of going to the same 3 commercials and pool of the only 12 highlights in MLB history 22 times a game.
For me, the best future of Facebook Watch broadcasting the games is not a future that is likely to happen. If they were a complementary broadcast that provided the opportunity for fans to watch it free with a poor quality broadcast on Facebook, while still allowing fans who pay for things like MLB.tv and Sportsnet to get the high quality broadcasts, that’s an acceptable path to go down. But to have exclusive rights given to Facebook for more than just a trial year is likely going to be bad for the game. They’ve gotten their message out this year, and brought in the interested fans. If they continue to do Facebook exclusive, the only thing they’re going to do is alienate fans who want to watch a quality broadcast.
*Free to those with a Facebook account, which opens a whole other can of worms.