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USA Basketball’s Facebook broadcast viewership proves TV still reigns (for now)

The NBA streams drew seven million views over nine games.

China v United States - USA Basketball Showcase Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Facebook streamed nine USA Basketball exhibition games last month in the run-up to the start of the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio. Not many people watched them, at least by traditional TV standards.

The NBA released viewership data Wednesday for the nine games, which included five men’s contests and four from the USA women’s team. In total, the streams generated seven million views — a view meaning a user tuned in while the game was live and stayed for at least three seconds. The men’s game against China on July 24 was the most popular, with 1.6 million views.

Important note: This is different from viewers. The NBA streamed the games — which were produced and simulcast on NBA TV — from two different Facebook Pages, and there is no way to detect repeat viewers, a spokesperson said. So people watched, but we don’t technically know how many.

How does that compare to, say, TV or other digital streams? Well, NBA TV broadcast the same games Facebook did and reported 321,000 viewers at any given time over the five men's games. Using the same metric, regular season NBA games on the network averaged 345,000 viewers last season, a record high. So it's probably safe to assume that NBA TV's television broadcast added up to a much bigger audience than what Facebook pulled.

When Yahoo streamed a regular season NFL game from London last year, it did 15 million total viewers, but that included viewers who simply visited the Yahoo homepage where the stream was autoplaying. So that was an inflated number. (And yes, comparing a Team USA exhibition game with a regular season NFL game — even one with two teams no one cares about — isn't a fair comparison.)

The issue here, in case you haven't figured it out, is there is no standard audience measurement for these new types of digital streams, which makes them hard to compare. That, in turn, makes them harder to sell to advertisers who are used to spending money on traditional TV.

The good news: The games still generated millions of views, and the USA vs. China game was one of the NBA's most popular Live videos ever. So you don't have to beat TV to be good on Facebook. And that should make everybody happy. For now.

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