Sunday, October 25, 2015

Yahoo Streams the NFL

This weekend, for the first time, an NFL game was streamed live on the Internet for free. Getting NFL on the Internet isn't a big deal. They've been doing it for a while. This is the first time it's been free, though.

It's pretty clear that the league wanted to make this event as low-risk as possible. The game was played from London, England, in the early morning in the US. The matchup of Buffalo and Jacksonville isn't likely to be all that important to anyone outside those two markets, where the game was available on broadcast TV. If the broadcast had technical problems, the impact would be minimal with this particular game.

Yahoo is the lucky Internet content company that got this first shot at NFL on the Internet. That could be good luck or bad, depending on the reaction to the broadcast: either "good for Yahoo, they did a great job" or "Yahoo is horrible, they screwed up the NFL." I think they managed to come down mostly on the good side.

I found it very easy to get access to the stream. All I had to do was install the Yahoo app on my Fire TV. No need to log in to anything. No restrictions on which device I could use. Other streaming services (sports or otherwise) could learn something from how Yahoo approached the user experience. Minimize the effort needed to view your content, and people are more likely to watch it.

Technically, I'd say Yahoo did an OK job, but not great. The quality of the stream was mostly good, but not quite HD quality. Pretty noticeable on those high-angle shots of the whole field, when individual players are tiny little blobs, but not a big deal on the more common angles focusing on an individual play. The stream paused a couple of times, but nothing major; certainly nothing close to the worst buffering pauses that I've experienced with other streams. I suspect that a higher-profile game, with a larger audience, would have had bigger issues. For this game, though, it worked out all right.

The broadcast itself looked very much like any other NFL game, only with Yahoo logos instead of CBS/FOX/NBC. I was pleasantly surprised that Yahoo didn't try to add extra ads; of course, the NFL probably didn't let them. Lots of commercial breaks, of course, but that's nothing new for NFL games.

The game itself was better than I expected, considering that it featured Jacksonville and Buffalo - not exactly the top of the power rankings. The Bills basically handed the game to the Jaguars with turnovers in the first half, led by quarterback EJ Manuel with two interceptions and a fumble, leading to a 21-point Jaguar lead. Credit to Buffalo, though, for not giving up. They slowly worked their way back into the game with a couple of field goals and a touchdown. Then Jacksonville quarterback Blake Bortles threw an interception of his own that was returned for a go-ahead Buffalo touchdown. He settled down and threw a touchdown pass on the next possession, though, to regain the lead. The Bills had a last chance, but couldn't get through the Jaguar defense for a final comeback. It was ugly, featuring lots of turnovers, but in this case that made for an interesting game.

From my perspective, I'd say Yahoo and the NFL did a pretty solid job with the first free streaming broadcast of a live game. There's room for improvement, of course, but the issues were fairly minor. And the ease with which I was able to access the stream made for a great experience. I'd be happy to see Yahoo doing future game streams.

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