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Yahoo Livestreams the NFL

NFL on Yahoo

So the NFL and Yahoo teamed up to stream last Sunday’s Bills-Jaguars game from London. As usual Dan Rayburn of Frost & Sullivan and StreamingMedia.com has done the best work of reviewing the entire exercise, including a review of the technical aspects here. I won’t cover all the ground he already did, other than pointing out this tweet:

This has been around for quite a while and the hype factor in so much reporting is just silly.

I do want to examine the business side of the exercise and put some thought into the long-term impact of the idea. Broadly speaking I don’t see a future for regular streams under the current universe of the NFL’s delivery model. There’s simply too much money involved in delivering the games via the traditional TV outlets. Many billions are involved between the League, the broadcasters and the advertisers, and this kind of major shift is at best a long, long way off. ($5 billion alone is the cost to the 4 networks currently signed to deliver the games through 2021).

So there won’t be any major restructuring going on, but over the remaining 5 years of the TV deal I would expect to see more experimenting with online delivery. I suspect the London game was selected as among other things, the arcane blackout rules & complications of NFL broadcasts could be avoided – no local market would be affected in terms of coverage. I do think the NFL was paying a LOT of attention – like anyone else they can see the shifts in the marketplace towards more online delivery. Cord-cutting is overhyped by a long shot, and live sports remains the last firm bastion of cable & satellite delivery – users like me who might otherwise give up on cable are keeping it to be able to watch their teams play.

The difficulty for a lot of fans is the ability to see a non-local team play; if they live in one place but support a team in another location, they’re hard pressed to get to see those games without additional cost via the NFL’s Sunday Ticket package. Live streaming is routinely available there for anyone willing to pay for it; the question becomes – is the NFL prepared to offer streamed games for ‘free’ (e.g. an advertiser-based rather than subscription model) more broadly? Again, there’s a lot of money involved and none of the parties to this will alter the arrangement unless better opportunity comes up via streaming.

Live sports in particular demands perfect performance during play or people will go crazy if they miss something important. I consider this past weekend an experiment; a relatively safe way to test the waters on totally online delivery. Yahoo hopefully learned something from it, which should be that live streaming is difficult to do correctly, especially with a lot of people watching a game. The NFL (and the other leagues watching closely) wanted to see how the event went for future thinking about contracts and game delivery. Fans wanted things for free online (ignoring data charges), and got a taste of a possible future. It won’t matter now, but check back in 5 years and we’ll have a better sense of how streaming impacts live sports delivery.

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