Facebook just signed a deal to distribute clips from the National Football League, but Facebook doesn’t want to play it up. It’s just a small “test,” a rep tells the Wall Street Journal.
Don’t buy it.
The deal — which lets Facebook sell ads connected with the NFL clips and keep a portion of the revenue for itself — is as big as Facebook’s video ambitions. That is: It’s a very big deal.
And not just because it brings America’s biggest sport to the world’s biggest social network and its 1.3 billion users, who are watching a billion videos a day.
More important is that the NFL pact gives you a good hint of where Facebook is headed, at least near-term, with its video strategy: Procuring timely, perishable video that’s important to lots of people — and delivering it to the right people.
It’s easy to see how this could work. Did you tell Facebook you’re a Patriots fan? Maybe Facebook will start delivering highlights to you during Sunday’s Bills game, right in your feed. Or maybe you didn’t tell Facebook that you’re rooting for Tom Brady — but it figured it out anyway, based on where you live, or what kind of stuff you click on.
And we’ll see more of these deals coming soon. Facebook is deep in discussions with the National Basketball Association for a similar pact, according to people familiar with the negotiations.
Remember: Going out and getting content it thinks its users want is a new idea for Facebook. Up until now, it’s been happy to let users, publishers and advertisers fill up the site on their own. But that’s changing.
And yes, sports leagues have already done similar deals with Twitter, and those deals were an important coup for CEO Dick Costolo and company, too.
But Facebook’s size — it has five times as many users as Twitter — and mountains of user data mean that the site can do some really interesting things for a lot of people. And it’s interesting to note that the NFL didn’t strike this deal with Google and YouTube, who have the world’s dominant video platform, though the league hasn’t ruled out a deal down the road.
But wait a minute — isn’t Facebook supposed to be courting the video stars who have built up big followings on YouTube? Doesn’t it want them to move some of their clips and audience over to Facebook?
Maybe. Then again, everyone else is also trying to do that. And getting YouTube’s core audience of teens and tweens to start watching PewDiePie or Bethany Mota somewhere else isn’t automatic. Neither is getting PewDiePie or Bethany Mota to go somewhere else.
Meanwhile, Facebook already has a giant audience that might very well be happy to watch video that’s timely and tailored for them.
If I’m Facebook, I prove my value to video-owners with sports deals and move on from there. I bet CNN would be very happy to get its stuff in front of Mark Zuckerberg’s audience. So would lots of other publishers.
People — especially people who make a living in the TV Industrial Complex — have been wondering for years what would happen if Facebook ever got serious about turning itself into a video distribution hub. Now we may start to find out.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.