When I saw this article about Facebook bidding on live streaming rights for NFL Thursday night games, I had to say, “You’re kidding me.”  

I’ve been talking a lot about rights ownership and how content creators today have more power – and upside – in holding on to their rights than they do by selling them to another party. I often say that rights management today reflects a broken business model. I encourage creators to keep rights ownership where it belongs – in their own hands – to preserve control of how they get that content out into the world.

I talk about the next-gen rights manager as an opportunity scout or strategist who collaborates with creators to build audience engagement, brand integrity and actual business value.

Today’s model doesn’t do that. It’s built on the premise that creators need an intermediary – one who controls their content. There’s so much wrong with that I don’t know where to begin.

And then here comes Facebook, an icon of disruptive digital innovation, bolting that old model on to a new-age media platform.

Bingo. Perfect illustration.

It’s clear why they’re doing it. Facebook is in the ad business. They can sell ads against that content.

The bigger question is why would the NFL do it? After all:

Rights buyers have their business model in mind: not yours. Facebook’s success is measured in ad revenue. The NFL’s success tracks to fan engagement, the delivery of relevant and memorable game experiences and unique, innovative ways of connecting with fans. As Facebook (or any rights holder) shapes the content experience, they do so in accord with their business vision…not necessarily what’s best for creators.

Content producers can hit the airwaves without traditional power structures or middlemen. The distribution “stack” was once in the hands of the few. Now, it’s on the platforms of many. Many creators – and certainly the NFL – can reach their audience without giving up their rights. The business wins of staying independent may not be as immediately clear as old models were.

As any YouTube star turned mainstream celeb can attest, you can build it. A Tier 2 or 3 content producer may need support, but it’s with things like how to build awareness, what technology to use at each specific stage and how to monetize effectively. The business value will come. When it does, creators will have a whole lot more control.

User-generated content competes increasingly with what rights holders control, and rights holders don’t generally welcome that model. I wonder if Facebook sees an inherent conflict in their mission – to “give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected” as highly-monetizable content enters their News Feed. They’ll serve their core business model (generating ad revenue) even if it trumps the other content people put on Facebook. There’s plenty of backlash about the quality of Facebook’s news feed. This can’t get better as “owned” content begins to enter the user experience. 

That’s Facebook’s problem more than the NFL’s, and, sure, UGC commentary on Facebook will add value to many viewers’ experience.

The bigger picture is that across all digital platforms, what users share is often more available, interesting and engaging than what (and where) rights holders own. There’s an inherent conflict if creators can’t amplify and benefit from what fans create.

Digital natives grew up on disruption. For them it’s the norm. They’re always moving to the next platforms. Granting rights to any one platform inherently limits creators’ options to innovate, break ground and find the next wave of fans in the places they choose. In this ever-changing digital world, why limit your options? Diversify. Syndicate. Test. Optimize. Immediately, in my O.

Traditional licensing is unsustainable. I see an increasing rift between “what’s worked” and “what’s working.” Not to mention “what will work.” Old models force talent, artists, or producers to keep doing what’s worked. It’s now happening in sports, similar to how it did (and still does) in music. When you sell your rights you compromise innovation and creativity. You move from “your” terms to “their” terms, which is not a power seat for talent.

That’s what I’ve been talking about, and Facebook’s move gives me the perfect fuel for the fire. In summary, here’s my message to creators: Selling your rights is not the best path forward.

Facebook’s bid to the NFL puts old-school thinking on to what’s supposed to be a disruptive platform. A state-of-the-art model would be opportunistic, platform agnostic and designed with immediate and long-term flexibility in mind. Trust me, that’s not how Facebook is thinking.

The next platform to wow people – and draw the next wave of business value – isn’t out in the wild yet. Sign your rights away now and you may miss the chance to benefit from it when it’s ready to come to market.

Rights holders know what creators haven’t fully figured out: the value is in the content. Find a platform – and a partner – that honors that truth on your terms as well as their own.

That’s the first step to getting rights, right.

Erik Davis

Erik Davis

Founder at AerNow
Erik is AerNow's Founder and a founding member of Always Evolving Motorsports. Passionate about tech innovation, new models for entertainment and sports, and race cars.
Erik Davis

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