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Facebook, Twitter Are Said to Seek World Cup Clips From Fox

  • Companies are offering tens of millions for selected rights
  • A deal could help Fox boost revenue and defray broadcast costs

The 2014 FIFA World Cup Final in Brazil.

Photographer: Matthias Hangst/Getty Images

Facebook Inc., Twitter Inc. and Snap Inc. are seeking online rights to video highlights from next year’s World Cup, soccer’s most popular tournament, according to two people familiar with the matter.

The companies have offered 21st Century Fox Inc. tens of millions of dollars for rights to highlights from the Russia-hosted games that air in the U.S., according to the people, who declined to provide more specific terms and asked not to be identified because the talks are private. Fox hasn’t decided whether to sell exclusive rights to one buyer or to spread them around.

Social media’s growing interest in video, including sports, gives Fox a potentially significant new revenue source for the games as well as a tool to promote its coverage. Fox holds U.S. rights to the quadrennial event, and will air games on broadcast and cable TV. The company paid a reported $400 million for multiyear World Cup rights.

The World Cup is an attractive target for social-media companies eager to exhibit more premium video and attract advertisers. The 2014 World Cup Final was viewed by more than 25 million people in the U.S., the most-watched soccer match in the country’s history. With many of next year’s games at odd hours because of the time difference in Russia, highlights may be in greater demand.

The four companies declined to comment on talks, which also could include other parties. Alphabet Inc.’s YouTube offers highlights and historic games from the National Football League, while Amazon.com Inc. acquired the rights to show a handful of NFL games in the upcoming season. Verizon Communications Inc. holds mobile rights to the NFL.

Facebook and Twitter hosted very little video during the last World Cup, which aired on Walt Disney Co.’s ESPN in the U.S. Snap was just beginning to expand from video-messaging to hosting more professionally produced video. The company created a video, called a live story, of user-generated footage from the World Cup final.

Facebook shares fell 1.1 percent Thursday to $148.72, while Twitter stock climbed 2.3% to $18.23. Snap, which has slumped since its initial public offering in March, slid 0.2 percent to $17.28.

Professional video is now a major focus for the three social-media companies. Facebook is producing original entertainment series and paying for short-form series exclusive to the social network, which has two billion daily visitors. 

Twitter plans to stream live video at all times on topics like news and entertainment. Snap is working with traditional media companies on original shows.

Sports is a major priority given its large audiences and fans’ desire to converse online as events occur. Facebook just reached a deal with Fox to carry some of the broadcaster’s coverage of the Champions League, the annual European soccer tournament. Snap has struck deals for sports highlights including the 2016 Olympics. Twitter streamed several live NFL games last season.

Fox Sports, which acquired the rights to the 2018 World Cup six years ago, has all but abandoned traditional news and highlights programming in favor of talk shows hosted by opinionated analysts. Highlight shows have become less valuable to broadcasters, and less interesting to viewers, in an era when most Americans can catch the latest clips via social-media feeds on their mobile phones.

Fox will retain rights to use highlights on its various shows, according to the people, and count on Facebook, Snap and Twitter to entice more casual sports fans to show an interest in the tournament. The companies could also produce highlight shows and other original commentary programs to complement the highlights.

One risk for the media companies is that they’ll send too many sponsors and viewers to faster-growing social media companies that already dominate online advertising. Facebook passed Fox in annual sales last year and is expected to increase revenue 39 percent to $38.5 billion in 2017.

Live sports have been the TV industry’s strongest bulwark against steady decline in live viewership. Fans of football and basketball tend not to watch games on-demand, which has enabled TV networks to sell advertisements for sporting events at higher and higher prices.

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