NFL Streaming on Yahoo: ‘A Symphony of Collaboration’

The grand NFL-streaming experiment is in the books, and, while there’s no shortage of opinions on Yahoo’s level of success in terms of audience, one thing is clear: the streaming production went off without a hitch. Last Sunday, NFL Media, Yahoo, and CBS Sports teamed up to produce and deliver the first free, global live stream of a regular-season NFL game, and the Buffalo Bills-Jacksonville Jaguars matchup from London totaled 15.2 million unique viewers and 33.6 million total video streams across Yahoo and Tumblr.

“There are those special times in the business when you know that you’re part of a group making history and everybody else knows it,” says Glenn Adamo, ‎VP, production and broadcasting, NFL Films & Media Operations. “The CBS operations team, NFL operations team, Yahoo operations team, NFL Digital team, NFL Network graphics group, and everyone involved threw themselves into this. It was a true symphony of collaboration.”

A Group Effort on Both Sides of the Pond
CBS Sports produced the telecast in London, and NFL Network handled the onsite pre/half/postgame show — similarly to Thursday Night Football. CBS delivered clean and dirty program feeds to the NFL, which handled 50- to 60-Hz standards conversion from the UK to the U.S. and transmitted diverse paths for Yahoo to its locations in Sunnyvale, CA, and Richardson, TX, for redundancy. The NFL also backhauled the feed from London via diverse Level 3 fiber paths to CBS in New York (for delivery to WIVB Buffalo, NY, and WJAX-TV Jacksonville, FL), Yahoo in Atlanta and Sunnyvale, and NFL Network in Culver City, CA. The NFL also sent a clean feed via satellite as a backup should the fiber pipe go down.

NFL-Yahoo-Streaming“Everybody had everything, so, if there was a problem, we had disaster-recovery standby,” says Adamo. “We knew exactly what we were going to do; we knew how we were going to put commercials in; we had copies of everything so we could act independently if we needed to. We were protected six ways to Sunday.”

In addition, the NFL delivered a clean feed (without Yahoo branding) to Asia Sat for international distribution in China, as well as to Sky and BBC for domestic distribution in the UK.

For a look at the audio effort, CLICK HERE.

“There were operational challenges, but, because of the communication and the collaboration, we and CBS, BBC and Sky all stepped up,” says Adamo. “It was the first time I can remember where people with such disparate priorities used each other to accomplish goals.”

Yahoo Takes the Streaming Reins
While CBS and the NFL handled the production and signal-contribution side of the equation, Yahoo controlled all streaming operations, working closely with NFL Digital. According to Yahoo, the 720p60 stream reached max bitrates of more than 6.74, and the average rebuffering ratio was less than 1%. In total, Yahoo streamed 8.5 PB to users while using multiple CDNs.

Yahoo also offered an alternative fantasy-centric audio-commentary stream for the game in addition to CBS’s feed featuring commenters Kevin Harlan and Rich Gannon. In addition, Yahoo produced a Katie Couric-hosted pregame show at 8-9 a.m. ET

“In order to make the experience better,” says Adamo, “Yahoo fed their pregame show from 8:00 already composited so that we could just air it for them. It would be one stream for the whole day. So, basically, the Yahoo game started at 8 a.m. and ended around 1 p.m. as one constant stream.”

The digital giant made the video player featuring the stream available across every Yahoo platform imaginable, including autoplaying on its home page and on Yahoo e-mail — a move that has raised eyebrows in relation to the reported streaming numbers. However, at Yahoo Sports, Ken Fuchs, Yahoo Finance and Product Partnerships VP/group lead, defended the decision while speaking at the NeuLion Sports Media & Technology Conference by SportsBusiness Daily/Global/Journal this week.

“The three-second autoplay is fairly standard for Facebook and Yahoo around live events and streaming scenarios,” he pointed out. “People that don’t want autoplay can opt out of it pretty fast. At the end of the day, we wanted people to find this pretty fast., [to] go through social, and we didn’t see any blowback on this.”

CBS, the NFL, and Yahoo used the New York Jets-Miami Dolphins game in London on Oct. 4 as a testing ground and to seek out any bugs in their workflow.

“I worked very closely with ‎[Yahoo VP, Connected TV] Ron Jacoby out there, and we had been in constant contact for weeks,” says Adamo. “They knew what they knew, and they knew what they didn’t know, and they were willing to lean on and trust us to do the same with them. So we never questioned their ability to put it on a player; they never questioned our ability to deliver it.”

Lessons Learned and Looking Toward the Future
Although there are no official plans for another streaming game, the NFL and Yahoo have both deemed the experiment a success. Adamo describes the production/streaming model used for the event as “sustainable, affordable, and doable,” should the NFL be called on to deliver live-streamed games more regularly in the future.

“I think we saw the future of television and it looks really bright, but I’d be careful that we wouldn’t try to automate this, which I think would be a mistake,” he warned. “The Internet world likes everything to be automated, and I think that, on live events like sports, you have to be careful that you don’t over-automate because that’s not how live sports works. But, if this were to become an every-week thing, would it be sustainable? The answer is absolutely yes.”

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