If you were up early Sunday morning to watch the Yahoo! broadcast of the Bills and Jaguars—Buffalo fans were served a huge helping of indigestion for breakfast—you were offered a glimpse into what will certainly be part of the NFL’s future. The league will no doubt create an online-only package at some point to complement its current broadcast and cable TV deals. That package will likely consist of a small number of games and while the attractiveness of those games will not be high, it will come at some point because the NFL does not ignore potential revenue streams. The Thursday Night Football package currently shown by CBS and the NFL Network has intentionally been kept to a one-year deal (with a one-year league option) so game inventory remains flexible. The NFL’s current media packages with the networks expire in 2021-22.
So what to make of Sunday’s broadcast, a topsy-turvy 34-31 Jacksonville win? Well, it was different, from an NFL Network pregame show leading to a CBS NFL game production, all live-streamed by an Internet company at no charge around the world on its web platforms. While NFL games have been streamed online for several years, this game was the first to be available primarily on the Internet. (The game was still seen on over-the-air television in Buffalo and Jacksonville.)
The streaming experience is so personalized given your device and Internet carrier, so a hearty caveat emptor when reading about people’s experience. I asked my followers on Twitter to send thoughts on Yahoo!'s NFL stream and you can see them here.
Not unexpectedly, the thoughts were all over the map in terms of satisfaction and disappointment.
Anecdotally, and please don’t take this an absolute; it appeared most viewers were generally satisfied with the screen experience. I watched on both my iPhone and a MAC laptop. My iPhone picture quality was beautiful; it felt like a video game at times. The laptop quality was also high, though I often had some buffering, pixilation and lagging issues (the stream was well behind Twitter), especially in the first half. If you refreshed the stream, those lags did go away. One thing I heard often from non-Apple TV users was the absence of DVR-type controls. I also saw a lot of NFL fans, obviously used to continuous action on television, who found it unacceptable when their video paused on occasion in a way that would be unacceptable on TV. I received a number of comments from people who said that Yahoo’s stream that features team bloggers and fantasy expert doing commentary was excellent. I concur. That was a fun added feature.
As SI’s Chris Burke noted in this piece, keep in mind that all of last year’s playoff games were streamed online, in conjunction with their televised broadcasts. CBS also did so for its Oct. 4 coverage of the Dolphins–Jets game from Wembley Stadium and will do the same for the Panthers–Cowboys matchup on Thanksgiving Day. FOX is streaming 101 games this season on its FOX Sports Go app, though viewers cannot access out-of-market content.
Yahoo! said more than 30 advertisers bought spots for the game and that the webcast was sold out. (New York Times sports business reporter Richard Sandomir reported it was comparable to the price of commercial time on traditional televised NFL games.) The game had one commercial break fewer per quarter and at times CBS broadcaster Kevin Harlan was still talking as the broadcast went to a bank of commercials. Unlike linear television, we also some commercials that were 15 seconds in duration. Re/code’s Peter Kafka, calling the broadcast a low-risk proposition for the NFL, reported Yahoo paid around $20 million to broadcast the game.
The pregame show was standard and at times a little more palatable because there were only three people on set (NFL Network talent Dan Hellie, Terrell Davis, Heath Evans) which meant less frat-house laughter. (Plus we got to see NFL Network reporter and SI alum Michael Silver ride a bicycle.) As expected, CBS got some free entertainment promotion (James Cordon) and Yahoo referenced the historic nature of Yahoo many times.
If you are interested in what some of the industry people will be looking for with the experiment, Sports Business Media reporter John Ourand last week paneled a group of top sports media consultants on what they expected to learn.
The viewership numbers for the game will be out over the next couple of days. Keep in mind: A poorly viewed regular season NFL game on television will still draw between six-to-nine million viewers. Ourand reported that Yahoo was believed to be guaranteeing some advertisers a minimum of 3.5 million U.S streams. Given the big (though failed) comeback by Buffalo, and a competitive game for people on the West Coast waking up late, I imagine they’ll hit that number.