As Facebook gets serious about video, the social giant's ambitions for live streaming were on display on Monday in India where it put a bid north of $600 million to win the digital streaming rights of IPL, one of the most popular cricket tournaments in the country.
Facebook, which has explored several partnerships with sport giants for live streaming in the recent months, made the highest bid of Rs. 3,900 crore (roughly $610 million) for the digital rights for streaming IPL within India for a period of five years. However, it lost the auction to Star India, which won worldwide digital and TV rights with a bid of Rs. 16,347.50 crore (roughly $2.5 billion), superseding all bids for individual markets, including that of Facebook.
"It certainly seems like the biggest single bet Facebook has made on video content, which reflects how hard it is to find really popular new sports content out there," Jan Dawson, chief analyst at Jackdaw Research told Gadgets 360. "Here in the US there are very few new rights available for the most popular sports until about 2021. So if Facebook is serious about sports content it's got to find it elsewhere. And given how many of Facebook's users are in India and other countries where cricket is popular, that's a logical place to spend the money."
To offer some perspective, the first three matches of IPL earlier this year had reached over 185 million viewers, according to data provided by Broadcast Audience Research Council, a real-time television ratings measurement system in the country.
Star India, the only company to bid for all the categories -- digital, TV etc -- made a bid of $2.5 billion, and swept the auction. Star owns popular streaming service Hotstar which competes with Netflix and Amazon Prime Video in India and has the rights to stream HBO content like Game of Thrones.
"This highlights the challenge of trying to buy just digital rights when other big legacy TV entities are willing to spend lots of money to gain combined rights and companies like Facebook can't compete," analyst Dawson added.
Amazon, Twitter, and Yahoo had also expressed intentions to participate in the bidding -- they had purchased the required auction document (which in itself cost a few hundred of dollars), but today the companies backed out of the auction
Telcos Airtel and Reliance Jio also made a big bet for the digital streaming rights. Also bidding for the rights were Sony, which had TV rights for all the earlier seasons of IPL, streaming service Yupp, and content conglomerate Times Internet Limited, among others.
Though Facebook didn't elaborate on its plans, the company might have been planning to use India as the testbed to gauge the streaming potential of its social network. Earlier this year, the company also live streamed a regular season basketball game -- between Golden State Warriors and Sacramento Kings -- directly to Facebook for the first time. The live stream was only made available to users in India.
Last year, Adam Mosseri, vice president of Product Management at Facebook said India was the fastest growing market for the social network with over 150 million monthly active users.