Facebook have no plans for investing in sports rights in a period of uncertainty around fans' consumption habits

Facebook are in no rush to be a major player in the sports rights landscape as they plan to test the market and use their Watch platform to understand the direction the market is heading.

The social media giant's director of global sports partnerships Peter Hutton did not told Sportel in Monaco Facebook have no plans to invest in more sports rights in the near future but admitted it would to rule out changes to this approach in a period of rapid change in sports broadcasting.

The former Eurosport chief executive said: "Our position changes as the platform changes, but I am certainly not expecting any huge investments in sports rights in the near future. I know that people always talk about the big giants coming and that life is changing. Who knows? Maybe one day, but certainly not today".

The goal is to create positive experiences on the platform, and that is a deliberately vague answer because I think we've got to work out what the positives on the platform are and that answer is different by territory, or different by age, and depth of fandom.

"I know that's not a headline answer, but I think that's the reality: that we have to find the right fit. Facebook talks a lot about product-market fit a lot of testing and, if we find a product-market fit, we will invest further in that idea and I think that sums up where we are in sport."

I genuinely think it's difficult to look into the future of the sports media space at the moment, and that's not me being naturally cautious; let's see where this goes. The consumption habits are changing all the time [and] the idea of watching live events on mobile has certainly transformed in the last few years.

It is very difficult to see where that trend will go, except that trend towards streaming and having more control over what you watch seems inevitable. How that works out in terms of content and where that shifts to and monetises itself, we're all watching that journey with interest.

Hutton also spoke about the tentative steps being taken into the sports rights market by Facebook, who have rights to La Liga in India, the World Surf League (WSL) globally, plus highlights deals with the NFL and MLB, and other tech firms like Amazon, who have acquired rights to Thursday night NFL games, Premier League packages and a host of tennis tournaments in certain markets.

Hutton commented: "I think Amazon buy for their business reasons and I think that's for them to do analysis. It's very difficult to draw conclusions to exactly what they want to do, but I think it's fair to say that they are having trials in key markets just as we're having trials in key markets.

"Covering sports live and being involved in the sports industry is a big learning process, so it's important that, when you take steps, you take small steps and you don't take big gambles, because there is nothing more frustrating as a sports fan than being given a bad experience."

We clearly share an attitude with Amazon and the rest of the new players, but what we're trying to do is give people a better experience in terms of a portfolio of products. You want people to be active viewers we estimated that somebody who engages with that content watches four or five times longer than someone who sits as a passive consumer.

"If there is anything that sums up what we and Amazon and others are doing is making those first steps in that direction, but clearly everybody what's to take that step; something that adds value to the system and doesn't reflect badly on the brand."

For that reason, Hutton says that Facebook, and particularly its Watch streaming platform, is a natural funnel's for leagues looking to expand their reach overseas. 

Over-the-top is a really good example of where you can perform well side-by-side with a league and an OTT brand because they permanently need to find new subscribers and audiences, Hutton added.

As a result, we can target people who watch one minute of their team, their league, or their video content and if you watch one minute of content in the social media world, then you are pretty interested.  So we can permanently create that funnel of subscribers for them.

We are confident of our place as the free, widest exposed platform that allows them to convert passionate fans into being paid OTT subscribers.