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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 24 June 2018

Facebook steps up sports battle with Amazon and Twitter

Social network agrees digital-only streaming deal with Major League Baseball

New York Yankees starting pitcher Sonny Gray. Facebook acquired rights to exclusively stream 25 MLB games during the 2018 season. Kim Klement / USA Today Sports
New York Yankees starting pitcher Sonny Gray. Facebook acquired rights to exclusively stream 25 MLB games during the 2018 season. Kim Klement / USA Today Sports

Facebook struck a deal with Major League Baseball, its first live sports broadcasting partnership, as the battle for user engagement among social media sites intensifies.

The deal with the North American league gives the social networking site exclusive broadcast rights to 25 games for US-based users, the first digital-only broadcast deal struck by a major US sports league. The financial details of the deal were not disclosed.

It comes after similar sports broadcasting deals with the UEFA Champions League, Mexico’s top football league, US college basketball and others.

Online streaming sites and social networks have in recent years snapped up rights to broadcast live sporting events, in a bid to increase user engagement and thereby attract greater advertising revenues.

Amazon in November acquired rights to exclusively stream 37 top tennis tournaments (outside the four major Grand Slam events) from 2019-23, via its Amazon Prime video platform. Last year it acquired rights to livestream 10 Thursday night NFL games, after outbidding Twitter, which acquired the rights for 2016.

Twitter last year struck a deal with the PGA Tour to livestream more than 70 hours of live golf between January and September this year.

The micro-blogging service last year partnered with Sela Sports in the Middle East to live-stream 21 matches from the 2017 Arab Championship regional football tournament, its first live stream of a global football tournament.

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“Much like the migration of sports from broadcast to cable, you’re reaching these milestones where the combination of the financial incentive and the audience allow you to make the next great leap,” said Lee Berke, an industry consultant, told Bloomberg. “This is part of the next great leap.”

Facebook also last week signed a licensing deal with Warner Music enabling users to use send messages and post videos with music from the label’s artists, which include Bruno Mars and Ed Sheeran. It had already signed similar deals with Universal Music and Sony.

The social network’s chief executive Mark Zuckerberg said in January that time spent on Facebook had decreased by about 50 million hours per day during 2017, as the company introduced changes to encourage “meaningful connections” rather than passive consumption of content.

“By focusing on meaningful connections, our community and business will be stronger over the long term," he said.

Mr Zuckerberg said that Facebook only expects a modest rise in advertising impressions during 2018, and that ad revenue growth will continue to slow following several years of rapid growth.

Facebook reported its first-ever drop in daily-active users in the United States and Canada during the fourth quarter of last year, dropping to 184 million from 185 million in the previous quarter. But the company's total worldwide daily active user base rose to 1.4 billion from 1.37 billion over the same period.