Yahoo’s recent live stream of an NFL game lasted only about three hours, but it could have kicked off repercussions that will play out over the next decade.
A look back at the box score: On the field, the Jacksonville Jaguars beat the Buffalo Bills 34-31 in the Oct. 25 game played at Wembley Stadium in London. On the Net, Yahoo scored 15.2 million viewers across the globe, enough to make it the largest live online sporting event.
That’s a record that won’t likely last long.
Analysts say the experiment, which most deemed a success, could set off an unparalleled skirmish for sports streaming rights — and growing audiences.
Other outlets stream sports regularly, but Yahoo’s was different because it was free and didn’t require authentication measures, such as inputting your online or pay-TV credentials.
As for the audience, the NFL and Yahoo compared viewership for the free, advertising-supported broadcast to that of a typical Monday Night Football broadcast, which draws about 13.5 million. For the record, ESPN took offense at that comparison pointing out, correctly, that the TV numbers mean at any given time there were 13.5 million watching.
But Yahoo’s broadcast uses a different metric of “views,” meaning 15.2 million people — with 33.6 million total views — watched the broadcast at some point, but may not have stuck around. “It’s your textbook example of comparing apples and oranges,” said ESPN’s Dave Coletti, who oversees the network’s digital research and analysis.
For Yahoo, the actual numbers aren’t worth fighting about. Remember, even the NFL called this matchup a game that would have been watched on TV by a “relatively limited” audience.
It was about having a game plan — that included selling its entire ad inventory to 30 clients — and executing it, to gain field position in the upcoming sports rights scrimmage. “We very much looked at this as a trial … that would then open the door for other conversations and additional opportunities,” said Adam Cahan, senior vice president of video, design and emerging offerings in an email interview. “We’ve heard great reviews from our users, the NFL and advertisers. We’re really delighted.”
Another set of post-game statistics shows that, compared with an average Sunday, broadband data consumption during the Yahoo-NFL broadcast increased 20% across the globe, according to broadband management and research firm OpenVault. That makes sense as, Yahoo said it delivered more than 8.5 petabytes of data — or 1 million gigabytes — to viewers.
OpenVault saw an uptick across subscribers of all broadband speeds. “Sunday mornings have traditionally been considered ‘off-peak’ when it comes to traffic on the broadband networks we track,” said OpenVault CEO Mark Trudeau. “The results … were eye opening. This is certainly going to impact the network planning and the budgeting process for broadband providers to keep up with the increased demand as more sports events are delivered via live streaming, which is a trend we can now anticipate.”
That’s likely true. Remember, sports fans are among the biggest spenders when it comes to programming. And right now many of them remain committed to DirecTV, which delivers the NFL’s Sunday Ticket service and other pay-TV systems because those entrenched providers have broadcast deals with regional sports networks.
But over the next few years, as contracts expire, online giants such as Yahoo and Google could get into the game and secure the next round of broadcast rights. That’s what investment research firm MoffettNathanson predicts in a recent report.
Most NFL broadcast deals are wrapped up for several years, but an opportunity arises after the end of this NFL season when CBS’ Thursday Night Football games are up for grabs. “We would expect a very competitive bidding process for these rights going forward,” the analysts say. “Following the successful NFL experiment with Yahoo streaming its London game, other online players could look to acquire these rights, further driving up the price.”
Plenty of competitors likely are poised to take the field because they won’t want to be left watching from the sidelines.
Cutting the Cord is a regular column covering Net TV and ways to get it. If you have suggestions or questions, contact Mike Snider via email at email@example.com. And follow him on Twitter: @MikeSnider.
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