New Facebook Messenger trial lets fans watch games online together

A fan take a photo on a mobile phone as the Texas Rangers take on the Boston Red Sox at Globe Life Park in Arlington on July 5, 2017 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

Facebook is preparing to launch on Messenger a trial of its “Watch Videos Together” feature that allows people to engage with each other as they watch a live sporting event.

Ananay Arora, founder of deadline management app Timebound, first spotted the trial of this feature in Messenger’s codebase. He found options for two or more people to watch a video together while also chatting about it.

A Facebook spokesperson told TechCrunch that Arora found an “internal test” that wasn’t ready to go live yet. Other comments made by Facebook representatives indicate this test will be launched for public use.

“It’s clearly a period where sports consumption is changing, and we’re a big part of that consumption change,” said Peter Hutton, Facebook’s director of global live sports partnerships and programming, to SportTechie. “But we need to learn where we’re going to end up in this route. Sport is a natural fit with Facebook; it’s just ‘How do we fit? Where do we invest? Where do we look and prioritize?’ That philosophy will shape over time.”

Facebook’s largest sports-related venture in the U.S. to date was spending a reported $30 million on the exclusive carriage of 25 weekday matinee MLB games and one non-exclusive game during the 2018 season. The purchase proved worthwhile: The 26 games received 123 million views with the average viewer 20 years younger than those on traditional broadcasts.

During the live sporting events viewers had a method to provide comments but not communicate with each other. With each game, Facebook made tweaks depending on what consumers were saying. The first streamed game didn’t allow fans to hide the chat stream, but that was changed.

“We talk a lot with great pride, and rightly so, about being able to chat to your friends while watching a game and consume things in a more interactive way,” Hutton said. “But there’s also an audience there that doesn’t want to do that. We have to make it open to both those groups of people.”

Facebook received a more positive reaction for a co-viewing feature than other platforms. YouTube’s Uptime app used a similar tactic but did not gain enough popularity and has shut down.

The MLB partnership gained a greater acceptance than some expected, including MLB Producer of Live Events Michael Treanor. Treanor said after seeing fan reactions he’s optimistic about a Season 2 of MLB Live on Facebook Watch.

Nikole Tower is a senior journalism major at Arizona State University

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