Facebook may have failed with its $600 million bid for cricket, but this is only the beginning

Bumper deal.
Bumper deal.
Image: AP Photo/Tsering Topgyal
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$600 million: That’s Facebook’s gambit on live sports in India.

The world’s biggest social network bid that amount to secure digital rights for the Indian Premier League (IPL) cricket tournament for the next five years. While this appears to be the single biggest bet Mark Zuckerberg’s company has made on video content, it wasn’t enough. Star India, the subsidiary of Rupert Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox, paid $2.6billion to secure the rights, both broadcast and digital, for IPL. Hotstar, Star’s digital streaming arm, held IPL’s online rights previously as well.

However, Facebook’s aggressive bid—the highest in the digital category—is another step in its march to take on television through live sports and original shows. It also means that Indian broadcasters now face competition from some of the world’s biggest internet giants and must urgently reinvent their digital content strategy.

Chasing the hottest star

Facebook has been upfront about its intent to disrupt the sport-streaming industry. “Sports are inherently social, with the power to build and connect communities around the world,” Dan Reed, the company’s head of global sports partnership, said in statement earlier this year. “This aligns closely with our mission, and we feel Facebook is a natural home for sports content, including live games.”

But, so far, the company has not managed to get its hands on any of the popular games. As Recode puts it succinctly, “Facebook has been paying for some sports, but most of it has been second-tier, toe-in-the-water stuff like college football games between low-profile teams.” The main reason for this, according to Recode, is that most must-see sports tournaments—from NFL to NBAare locked up with major broadcast networks.

IPL, meanwhile, is massively popular in the subcontinent. During its season this year, it made its then official broadcaster, Sony Max, India’s most-watched TV channel for several weeks. More importantly, live-streaming of the cricket matches propelled Hotstar to the number one spot among video-streaming services in India, significantly ahead of Amazon Prime or Netflix. “Hotstar is the best casebook you can offer any digital company in India,” said Thomas Abraham, co-founder of sports news website SportzPower. And, Facebook’s bid shows that it is building a bold strategy around content in India, Abraham added.

The social network’s press team didn’t respond to Quartz’s queries on its digital strategy for India, the country with most of its users. Meanwhile, the next wave of internet users looks very different, gravitating from text towards videos, and Facebook knows it has to be much more than a social network to win over the next billion.