The National Football League and Yahoo will partner this fall on the first exclusively live streamed regular season NFL game. On Sunday, October 25, Yahoo will make the league’s annual kick-off in London, England available to viewers worldwide across all manner of devices including PCs, mobile devices, connected TVs, and set-top boxes.
The game features the Buffalo Bills and the Jacksonville Jaguars and starts at 9:30 AM Eastern/6:30 AM Pacific. Although most of us will have to watch the game online, viewers in Buffalo and Jacksonville will be able to see the game on traditional broadcast television.
Reports about the NFL’s streaming experiment for the 2015-2016 season first surfaced in March. At the time, Google seemed a likely candidate for the job given its past work with the NFL and the company’s deep experience with video streaming on YouTube.
Yahoo is no stranger to streaming or the NFL, however. In January 2014, the NFL and Yahoo launched NFL Now, an online personalized video service delivering NFL news and clips. Yahoo is also trying to attract audiences with original programming. Most recently the company picked up the sixth season of Community after NBC dumped the show. The new season began streaming exclusively online in March.
Why this matters: For Yahoo, the chance to live stream an NFL game allows the company to show that it’s a force for premium online content. The NFL, meanwhile, gets a low risk way to see how its audience reacts to a freely available online-only game. Still, the league could have chosen a slightly better game to use as a guinea pig. With a 9:30 AM start time on the east coast for a game between two small market teams, the American audience may be relatively small. Most viewers are likely to come from Europe and all points East, which is hardly the NFL’s target market.
For now, this is just a one-off experiment, and there are no plans to move any further games exclusively online. That would be nearly impossible anyway as most of the NFL’s broadcast rights are locked up until 2022. The only exception are some Thursday night games, which could become available starting in 2016, according to Re/code. It seems like a long shot, however, for the NFL to choose online streaming over television for such a potentially lucrative contract.
Even though there’s only one game set for exclusive online broadcast during the upcoming season, many other games will still be available online. In recent years, the NFL and its broadcast partners have put more and more live games online. Last year, Fox Sports live streamed 97 regular season games to U.S. audiences.