Update: The NFL said that 15.2 million unique viewers watched the live stream, which is comparable to an average Monday Night Football game.
Live sports streaming history was made on Sunday morning as the Jacksonville Jaguars beat the Buffalo Bills, 34-31, in the first NFL game to be broadcast strictly online.
Yahoo, which reportedly paid the NFL $17 million for the rights to stream the game played in London on Sunday, made the action available on its own platform and a number of other devices. Unless you lived in Jacksonville or Buffalo — which aired the game on local TV — you weren’t be able to catch the action anywhere but via Yahoo.
Here’s a tweet from early this morning from Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer:
Our NFL Live Stream starts this morning and our headquarters is hopping! Parking lot chock full at 5 a.m. https://t.co/jktijz9y5n
— marissamayer (@marissamayer) October 25, 2015
Judging from my own experience and the response on social media, Yahoo’s first foray with NFL live streaming went fairly well aside from a few hiccups here and there.
First of all, it was pretty bizarre hearing “Yahoo” during an NFL game and to see this type of imagery:
I used three different methods to stream the game. The first was via the Yahoo Fantasy Football app on my Samsung Note 4 smartphone using T-Mobile’s 4G/LTE network. The second was on my laptop at nflstream.yahoo.com using my at-home Comcast WiFi. The third was through the NFL app on my Xbox One that also used the at-home WiFi.
My smartphone feed was consistently 5-to-10 seconds ahead of the laptop and Xbox One, and rarely showed any lag. Combined with the Note 4 screen resolution — and Yahoo’s video processing power — the feed was fantastic.
FWIW, Yahoo!'s primary feed is 5 mbps, 60 fps, 720p. Your local affiliate can't give that to you.
— Timothy Burke (@bubbaprog) October 25, 2015
I also enjoyed being able to walk around my house, step outside, or even go to the bathroom — yes, TMI — and still watch the live stream on my phone even though I was not in front of a TV.
“I love watching the game in the bathroom!” my giddy roommate told me after taking care of business. “I got to see that interception.”
However, by the time the game ended, my phone battery drained all the way from 100 percent to less than 30 percent, and I probably used a serious chunk of mobile data during the 3-hour game.
As for the laptop and Xbox One, both feeds got a bit blurry at times when the connection buffered. This seemed to be a problem for a few others — Business Insider called the stream a “disaster” — but overall, my WiFi connection was adequate aside from the slight delay.
The varying levels of connection on my phone, my laptop and Xbox One is a perfect example of how it’s tough for a company like Yahoo to have complete control over the quality of its stream. For example, even if Yahoo’s technology is robust, it may not matter if someone’s at-home Internet connection or mobile network is poor.
With Internet problems, no one knows who at fault. So they blame publisher/broadcaster. https://t.co/aeYcPPw1Aw
— Henry Blodget (@hblodget) October 25, 2015
These are the kinds of issues MLBAM, NBC, Turner, etc – anybody who does lots of live streaming – deal with on a daily basis.
— Eric Fisher (@EricFisherSBJ) October 25, 2015
While I had little-to-no problems streaming the game to various devices using different connections, others were frustrated.
— Robert Flores (@RoFlo) October 25, 2015
— Greg McNeil (@greggiemchabfan) October 25, 2015
— Rob S. (@Scacman) October 25, 2015
There were certainly more complaints, but a number of people also came away impressed with the stream.
Yahoo's NFL stream looked great. Nice work whoever did the encoding and distribution. No buffering, no hiccups. #NFLUK
— Ken Smith (@whidbey88) October 25, 2015
Damn this yahoo NFL stream is straight up HD I like this
— Kevin Webb (@Stairway2Kevin_) October 25, 2015
This #nflstream of the Jags/Bills game on Yahoo is great! I've always complained the NFL games on my HDTV had too many pixels anyways!
— Justin Miller (@JustinMillerco) October 25, 2015
One nice aspect of Yahoo’s stream was ease of access — the feed was available on multiple devices and on several Yahoo platforms like its homepage (yahoo.com) and fantasy football app. There were minimal steps to launch the stream, too, which made it easy for fans to tune in.
A couple other observations: Watching on a live stream prevents people from pausing and rewinding. This could have implications for people who create GIFs and short videos from live sports broadcasts and share them on social media — something that the leagues aren’t quite fond of.
Something I've already heard from many Bills-Jags watchers: They miss DVR-type controls.
— Richard Deitsch (@richarddeitsch) October 25, 2015
Overall, the entire production pretty much felt like what you’d see on broadcast TV. It had normal commentators, normal replay angles, and normal commercials.
The streaming video NFL of the future feels like…just a regular televised game. Which I suppose is a good thing for Yahoo/NFL.
— Shira Ovide (@ShiraOvide) October 25, 2015
Speaking of the ads, there were more than 30 companies who paid Yahoo for streaming airtime, including the likes of Microsoft, which promoted its new Surface Book with multiple spots. A surprise company to see was Seattle-based online real estate portal Zillow — not sure I’ve seen its advertisements on a national sports broadcast before.
However, while the familiarity is nice, you wonder what extra content or features a company like Yahoo could offer on a live stream.
@Taylor_Soper Next step – chances to make $$ predictions and quarter by quarter fantasy alongside stream?!
— Neil Horowitz (@njh287) October 25, 2015
— YourSportscast (@yoursportscast) October 25, 2015
At the end of the day, Yahoo has to be pretty happy with how its technology held up without major disruptions that other media companies have experienced with live sports being streamed online. The game was actually exciting, too, which was an unexpected bonus.
We’ll see if Yahoo reports how many people tuned into the game, which kicked off at 6:30 a.m PT — the company reportedly guaranteed advertisers a minimum of 3.5 million U.S. streams.
But regardless, Yahoo proved that it can handle producing a live stream of an NFL game, which is important for the league. Being the first to do so probably helped Yahoo marketing-wise, too. The company reportedly outbid other tech giants like Facebook and Google for the streaming rights.
First time my five-year-old has ever said "yahoo", so that's worth something right?
— Peter Kafka (@pkafka) October 25, 2015
Don’t expect a ton of games to be aired strictly online in the near future given the NFL’s existing contracts with its cable TV partners. Still, this is a key step in the live sports streaming arena as more and more fans cancel their cable TV subscriptions and use their mobile devices/computers to watch the action.
"Yahoo game" – only viewed through streaming – seems novel, but tens of million of young viewers used to consuming programming this way.
— Andrew Brandt (@AndrewBrandt) October 25, 2015