For now, TV broadcasters see Facebook Live as marketing

Facebook’s live video might rack up enormous numbers, but TV broadcasters still see it as a marketing vehicle for the cash cow of TV. When the Cleveland Cavaliers received their championship rings before the NBA season opener last night, you could have caught the pregame ceremony on TNT, which broadcast the game that followed. But the ceremony also streamed on TNT’s Facebook page. The main purpose: drive tune-in of the actual game. “That’s really […]  ” said Will Funk, evp of sales and property partnerships at Turner, to Digiday during the Live Fronts, an industry conference focused on the growth of live video across platforms. “If you want to see the game, it’s going to direct you to go see the live game telecast.”

While Twitter has started buying broadcast rights to live sports, and a few Facebook-savvy publishers like Bleacher Report and The Lad Bible are doing some live-game broadcasts of their own on the platform, the reality is that live sports on social platforms at scale is still pretty far away. Media partners like CBS and Turner are not likely to broadcast full games on social platforms anytime soon.

“I don’t think [social] will be a place to distribute our most premium content unless the economics change significantly,” said Jeff Gerttula, svp and gm of CBS Sports Digital.

That doesn’t mean sports broadcasters won’t continue to use Facebook Live as a place to experiment with different types of content. CBS Sports, for instance, broadcasts a Sunday morning fantasy football show on Facebook. The company sees Facebook as a way to drive people to watch other episodes of “Fantasy Football Today,” which airs daily on CBS Sports websites and apps. CBS Sports started doing this recently, so it’s not clear how effective Facebook will be in driving audience for content on CBS Sports platforms, but the company is willing to test it out.

“It’s just the first inning,” said Gerttula. “We’re trying a bunch of different things to find out what works, but it’s not a business yet.”

Of course, sports broadcasters sit in a unique position where their most valuable live content — and, therefore, a lot of their time — is focused on TV and expanding and monetizing that in digital and social.

Other TV brands, like NBCUniversal-owned E! News, have also been experimenting with Facebook Live and might have a quicker path to making revenue from the platform. Today, E! News produces about four hours of live video for Facebook every week. This includes its daily morning show “Live from E,” which streams at 9:30 a.m. ET. On Thursday, it plans to launch a Facebook Live series called “Freestyle” with advertiser Ulta Beauty sponsoring the first three episodes, said John Najarian, evp and gm of E! News.

E! News is ramping up its sales efforts around Facebook Live, Najarian said, but there still needs to be a better understanding of metrics. Facebook does not offer an average-minute-audience stat, which TV networks and advertisers use to determine the number of viewers a program has during any 60-second portion of the broadcast. It’s a stat that Twitter offers for its live NFL streams, and would be helpful for media companies when they pitch advertisers on integrations into Facebook live videos.

“[Facebook Live] is a business in development,” Najarian said. “No new platform ever launches with immediate windfalls of revenue. I’ve been in this business long enough to know that when Google got into search, it wasn’t making money right away. Let’s see where this takes us.”

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