Yahoo Reaches 15.2M Unique Viewers, 33.6M Streams for First NFL Live Game

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“We’re thrilled with the results," says a top executive of the football league.

Yahoo! and the National Football League said Monday that the first free, global live stream of a regular-season NFL game reached over 33.6 million total views across all devices on Yahoo and Tumblr and 15.2 million total unique viewers.

The match Sunday featured the Buffalo Bills against the Jacksonville Jaguars, live from London’s Wembley Stadium." A truly historic event, this was the first time users could access the NFL’s premium content globally, without cable, authentication or TV, and over 15 million unique viewers tuned in," the partners said.

Football fans streamed over 460 million total minutes of the game, or 30.26 minutes per unique, with 33 percent of streams coming in internationally across 185 countries worldwide, they said. More than 30 brands partnered with Yahoo for the event.

Yahoo streamed the game on its homepage, so it wasn't fully clear how visitors to the homepage were counted as part of the overall viewer number. Although not a direct comparison, the NFL says an average of 17.6 million viewers currently tune in to Thursday Night Football and 13.5 million average viewers watch Monday Night Football. The latest Super Bowl drew 114.4 million total viewers, making it the most-watched show in U.S. history.

“It’s been a great opportunity to partner with the NFL and deliver a truly exceptional global live streaming experience for our users,” said Adam Cahan, Yahoo’s senior vp of product and engineering. "We’re seeing a dramatic shift in the industry as audiences’ primary video-watching moves away from TV. We were thrilled to join the NFL in setting a new standard for sports programming for our users and advertisers."

“We’re thrilled with the results of our initial step distributing an NFL game to a worldwide audience and with the work of our partner, Yahoo,” said Hans Schroeder, senior vp, media strategy, business development & sales for the NFL. “We are incredibly excited by the fact that we took a game that would have been viewed by a relatively limited television audience in the United States, and by distributing it digitally were able to attract a global audience of over 15 million viewers.”

The 15.2 million uniques figure is expected to grow further from Monday's initial figures. Based on historical comparables, about an additional 1 million viewers could be added from digital numbers in China, the TV audience in the U.K. where Sky and the BBC aired the game and the TV  audience from over-the-air stations in the Buffalo and Jacksonville markets.

Yahoo reportedly guaranteed advertisers 3.5 million streams, because the game was streamed early in the morning on the West Coast and because the game didn't involve big franchises with national fan bases.

Yahoo paid the NFL a reported $20 million for the rights to stream the game, part of an international series that was played in London with a kick-off time of 6:30 a.m. on the West Coast. The game also aired in local markets, but was available worldwide only through Yahoo’s stream.



The tech company had exclusive advertising rights for the game, and CEO Marissa Mayer announced during the company’s earnings call last week that its inventory was sold out. Sports Business Daily reported Thursday, however, that asking prices for 30-second spots dropped from $200,000 to around $50,000 and that positions were still available at discounted prices.

The match was a big test for Yahoo, which has been making a push into live streaming through deals like the one it struck with Live Nation in 2014 to stream a concert a day for a year. But it came in the middle of change at the company’s media division following the departure of CMO and head of media Kathy Savitt in September. Savitt had been a key driver of Yahoo’s original series initiative, championing the revival of cult comedy Community. But the Sunnyvale, Calif.-based tech giant took a $42 million writedown on its originals business last quarter. CFO Ken Goldman said during the company’s third-quarter earnings call that Yahoo “couldn’t see a way to make money over time” on projects like half-hour comedies Community and Other Space.

Following such a high-profile flop, the question becomes whether Yahoo remains invested in pushing into the type of high-cost entertainment content that will move the needle with audiences and advertisers like live sports and original programming. One person sure to have been keeping a close eye on Yahoo’s performance Sunday was Martha Nelson, who was hired in August as global editor-in-chief but upped to head of media last week following Savitt’s departure, according to ReCode.

The live stream appeared to go off without a hitch. Aside from a few inevitable complaints about the quality of the stream, most consumers had no problem viewing the game on mobile devices, laptops or through connected TV boxes. Yahoo promoted the event with a muted live stream on its homepage and frequent updates through its popular Fantasy Football app.

Regardless of whether Yahoo makes money on the game, observers have largely viewed the deal as a bet that the future sports will be live-streamed, whether on Yahoo or another streaming platform. Most NFL games are locked up in long-term deals, but eventually the NFL could sell the rights to packages of its games to online streamers the way that it has with its broadcast partners. CBS’ rights to Thursday night games, for example, expire after this year.

 

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