So, did you watch any of Bills/Jaguars, the first NFL game to be exclusively broadcast online? It was, by all accounts, a pretty good stream. But the popularity of the broadcast probably wasn’t anywhere near as high as Yahoo would like you to believe.
First, the quality: It was great for me, both on my phone and on a friend’s laptop. The resolution fuzzed a few times, but never outright froze. The Deadspin staff reports largely good experiences, save one who said his stream kept freezing—though how much of that is a function of his internet speed, we don’t know. Anecdotal reports from around the world report similarly good stream quality. Considering this may have been the single most-watched livestream ever, its robustness has to be considered a success. It won’t be many years before this is a standard way to consume football.
Now, to the numbers. Here are the bullet points from Yahoo’s press release:
•We saw 33.6M streams of the game and over 15.2M unique viewers tuned in for one of the largest live streamed sporting events in history.
•Football fans streamed over 460 million total minutes of the game across devices.
•33% of those streams came in internationally, across 185 countries worldwide.
•More than 30 top brands partnered with Yahoo to kick off this new era of sports programming, making this a sold out event.
•We performed a technical first with rebuffering ratio of nearly 1%, while delivering over 8.5 petabytes to end users.
Numbers can lie, and in ratings for sporting events, often do. (If you read closely into the publicly announced Super Bowl ratings, you’ll often find that the viewership figure used in the headline actually represents the largest number of simultaneous viewers at any one time—usually the game’s end—and doesn’t represent viewership throughout.)
In this case, Yahoo’s big number —15.2 million—just means that that many people tuned in to watch at any point over the course of the broadcast. Here’s a more accurate measure of how popular the stream was:
CNNMoney, using slightly different math, puts the average viewership per minute at 2.36 million. [Update: Ourand’s 1.64M was the domestic average only.] These are still good numbers, but pale in comparison to televised NFL games, which average between 10M and 20M viewers per minute.
So let’s say that at any given point during Bills/Jags, 2 million people around the world were tuned in. How many of them did so on purpose? Recode notes what you probably did already: if you went to Yahoo’s homepage, its sports site, or its fantasy sports site, the game stream started playing automatically. Yahoo.com does incredible traffic, and everyone who was there yesterday morning, whether they wanted it or not, streamed the football game and counted among Yahoo’s viewers.
The same situation was in place at Yahoo-owned Tumblr:
In Yahoo’s defense, the game was televised locally in the Buffalo and Jacksonville viewing areas—so the two largest audiences for the game didn’t need to go online to see it. And the 9:30 a.m. Eastern start time, plus the matchup itself, didn’t allow for the biggest potential audience in the U.S.
Whatever the variables, and all the spun numbers, the stream’s viewership was fantastic for an internet-only live event—and relatively anemic for a football game. But it’s very clearly just the start.
Photo from Yahoo HQ courtesy of Yahoo.