Football Fans Worry Patchy Data Will Hamper Facebook’s streaming of La Liga

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Barca vs Real…Messi has the ball, Ramos is charging in-…and the next move is that the live video freezes and buffering, seemingly interminable, begins. That pretty much sums up the Indian football fan’s fear after Facebook acquired the India live streaming rights for Spain’s globally followed football league, La Liga. La Liga will be streamed free to Facebook members in India. But many in sports and media industry say the viewing experience may be challenging.

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In a move that should worry traditional sports broadcasters in the country, Facebook on Monday announced the acquisition of media rights for the Indian subcontinent of Spanish football league, La Liga — one of the most watched football leagues and home of popular clubs Real Madrid and FC Barcelona. The social networking site, which has 270 million subscribers in the country as per La Liga, plans to live stream all the 380 matches of the league kicking off the season this Friday. The matches will be streamed free of cost here.

Peter Hutton, head of global live sports programming at Facebook, chose to downplay the development saying it was an experiment for Facebook and the company is not going aggressively after sports rights. However, Facebook’s failed attempt to grab the digital rights of the Indian Premier League (IPL) last year for a whopping Rs 3,900 crore is considered a sure sign of the company’s intent.

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That bid (IPL) was before my joining Facebook. It’s not about going and acquiring rights of everything. We are looking at a few opportunities in multiple markets,” said Hutton, who moved in May this year from Discovery Communications, where he was heading Eurosports as its CEO.

European football has huge fan bases in India because of live television broadcast, which reaches anyone with a TV and basic cable/satellite connection anywhere. La Liga on Facebook may be free, but a viewer will require a smartphone or a tablet/laptop/computer and will be at the mercy of varying data speeds India’s wireless and broadband connections provide. As Richa Mishra, a Barcelona fan who can sing the club anthem El Cant del Barca, says: “It’s a nightmare.

Facebook is becoming a little old school and youngsters are moving away…sports can bring back the young. The beauty of the sports audience is that they are loyal and whatever the platform, they will check it out,” said Tuhin Mishra, managing director at sports marketing firm Baseline Ventures. But even Mishra is convinced not having La Liga on TV is a big dampener. “The whole fun of a great football match is in watching it on a large screen with friends over a beer or two.

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People buy big TV sets to enjoy sports and movies. News can be consumed over phone, but not football matches,” he rued. And there’s the whole character of the Indian market. The TV market is still both maturing and growing. There are almost 200 million TV homes and around 100 million homes that are yet to buy a TV. And cable/satellite content is still a big play even though OTT content is growing. Market experts believe India will be ‘TV and digital’ market, rather than ‘TV or digital’ market for the foreseeable future.

So, even though Facebook has 270 million users in India, the impact of football streaming on broadcast industry may not be much. “I don’t think there will be a major impact on sports broadcasters as many people can’t watch matches on OTT and a large proportion will remain on TV. There will always be a significant viewership on TV,” said a senior media analyst of a leading consulting firm. There’s market buzz that Facebook may tie up with a broadcaster and offer deferred live streaming, like IPL was on OTT platform when broadcasters had the first rights. Perhaps, watching Messi without buffering is worth being a few minutes behind real time.

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