Major League Baseball on Facebook

The End of the Broadcaster and the Resurrection of Television Advertising

It’s no secret that at Abacus we believe that the future is bleak for broadcast television advertising.

So when I tuned into mlb.tv for an afternoon Blue Jays game and learned that the game was blacked out, I was curious why.

Turns out that Facebook has acquired the rights to broadcast 25 Major League Baseball games during the 2018 season, and this was the Blue Jays appearance, live on social (at a rumored price of $35 million).

With my attention turned to my MacBook, as opposed to my television, I settled into the game and made the following 5 observations regarding baseball on Facebook:

It Worked.

Firstly, it worked. The broadcast was very high-quality video, which streamed consistently with no buffering or delays. It worked well on laptop and iPhone. The Non-stop, commercial free experience was enjoyable, feeling more like watching the flow of NBA than MLB.

A Little Too Social

The comment stream was a distraction to me. As you’ll read below, it is integral to the experience they are trying to create. I found it quite distracting, and a run of good comments quickly got ruined by one bad commenter. The good news is that they’re easy to turn off, by maximizing the video window. In fact, you can maximize the video to full screen, and you wouldn’t notice a difference

It’s An Experience

I quickly realized that they were going for something different. Think more discussion and less broadcast. The commentators had a more conversational tone and didn’t just share the basics. They asked the viewers questions – in a way that didn’t feel contrived – and prompted responses in the comment feed. It seems to me like there are lots of opportunities to make the broadcast more modern and inclusive feeling.

It Was Interactive

From the discussions came interactivity as the fans became a part of the commentator’s conversation. Producers selected fan comments and put them on the screen. Commenters were incentivized to watch the video, to see if there comments had been selected. There were frequent interviews with players and coaches from both teams, which made it feel more interactive. Players being interviewed had played recently with the commentators, so the answers were personal and insider. I believe that this increased access and pro-to-pro interviews are big trends to expect in sports.

The Commentators

They selected recent ex-players to be the commentators, and the conversation felt more insider than normal. The interviews with the players and managers were more interesting because it was recent players asking the questions. Interestingly enough, the commentators didn’t have to be ex-players of the two teams, and it didn’t impact the experience.

Overall, I enjoyed the experience, and wouldn’t have an issue tuning into Facebook Watch to watch a Jays game.

More importantly, it got us thinking about what this means for TV advertising in general.

Firstly, it supports our prediction of the imminent death of broadcast television. The TV content of the future clearly belongs to the FANGS and not the broadcasters of yesteryear. Compare the market caps if this feels too uncomfortable to accept.

Secondly, it’s a really positive step for Facebook Watch. It was a good, modern sports broadcast, and I could easily see traditional commercial breaks being replaced with social video and content.

Thirdly, that’s really exciting for marketers. As bearish as we are on broadcast TV, we’re equally bullish on social/digital video advertising.

Imagine…

Instead of buying ads from NBC, you’ll buy them from Netflix.

Instead of assuming a captive audience and producing a slow 30-second video, you’ll reverse engineer a short video that’s perfect for attention deficit.

Instead of producing slow, horizontal content, that’s native to television sets, you’ll create fast, vertical content, that’s native to mobile phones.

Instead of buying every viewer during Breaking Bad, you’ll only buy the viewers you need – say 21-26 females in 10 key DMAs, watching Breaking Bad and other similar content.

Instead of your TV ads being broadcast based, they’ll become people based, meaning you can follow people around with your commercial, regardless of publisher, device or broadcast.