Sunday morning saw a first for the National Football League and its millions of fans: The Buffalo Bills-Jacksonville Jaguars game from London was the first to be made available exclusively on an Internet-based platform.
As the cord-cutting trend continues, the NFL decided to bypass TV for one game this season (with the exception of the teams' local markets). Here are three takeaways from the livestream:
1. Viewership was significantly lower than for a typical NFL TV broadcast
Yahoo and the NFL released viewership numbers this morning, and at first glance, they look comparable to a TV broadcast—15.2 million unique viewers, 33.6 million video streams and more than 460 million total minutes consumed.
But the way unique viewers are counted online is different than the way they are measured for a TV broadcast. The 15.2 million figure includes those who were exposed to the stream, but Yahoo was pushing the game across multiple platforms, including running the stream on autoplay on its homepage, which averages about 43 million daily uniques. So it's fair to wonder how many were actually watching the game. The 33.6 million video streams (roughly 5 million were from international viewers) was well above the 3.5 million Yahoo reportedly guaranteed advertisers.
The viewership number was also goosed by a thrilling fourth-quarter comeback by the Bills, which occurred while CBS's pregame show was in progress. CBS, which produced the game for Yahoo, mentioned the game, directing viewers to the livestream. The 33.6 million figure represents the total number of streams. The closest number we have to an average audience is the 460 million total minutes streamed. With the game lasting 195 minutes, that's an average of 2.36 million viewers per minute, far below a traditional TV audience but still a huge number for Yahoo, which averaged 369,000 viewers per event last year. It just shows how much smaller the audience is for livestreaming than for television—for now. (Read more about how Nielsen will measure "average audience" when it rolls out total audience measurement later this year.)
2. Quality was dependent on numerous factors
Unlike watching a television broadcast, there are a number of factors that go into the performance of streaming anything over the Internet. That was apparent Sunday morning, as the quality of the livestream depended on the strength of people's Internet connections and, more importantly, the type of device they were using to watch the game.
The general consensus was that the stream performed better on Apple TV and mobile devices than it did as a regular Web stream on a laptop. The biggest problem viewers had was with the constant, albeit brief, pauses typical of any livestream. Football fans are used to watching games in a certain way on television, so for many, this was a bit jarring.
For its part, Yahoo said there was an average rebuffering ratio of less than 1 percent.
— Jesse Redniss (@jesseredniss) October 25, 2015
Just looked at last 108 tweets with #NFLonYahoo tag. 27 said good picture quality 16 bad quality 65 nothing to do with stream.
— Walt Piecyk (@WaltBTIG) October 25, 2015
Today's #NFLonYahoo Buffalo vs Jacksonville stream is brought to you by Hooli.
— Hot Carl Murphy (@hotcarlmurphy) October 25, 2015
3. The NFL will likely do this again
Despite the livestream's low viewership compared with a television broadcast, the NFL succeeded in getting a game between two nonelite teams into the national consciousness. That wouldn't have happened without the unique way the game was presented.
Brian Rolapp, evp of media for the NFL, previously told Adweek the league was looking for this to be more than just a one-off experiment. And since by most accounts the stream went off without a hitch, it's likely the NFL will do it again next year.