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Here's How Yahoo Guaranteed You'd Watch Today's NFL Game

Hint: Rhymes with "autoplay."

Peter Kafka covers media and technology, and their intersection, at Vox. Many of his stories can be found in his Kafka on Media newsletter, and he also hosts the Recode Media podcast.

Yahoo paid a lot of money to stream today’s Bills-Jaguars game. Yahoo has reportedly promised advertisers that it will generate at least 3.5 million streams for the game. The game featured two low-wattage teams, started at 6:30 in the morning on the West Coast, and was a snoozer until the last few minutes, when Buffalo rallied but still lost.

How could Yahoo deliver an audience for that?

Here’s one way: By streaming the game to everyone who visits Yahoo’s home page, whether they want to see the game or not.

All morning long, if you visited on a PC, you were greeted with an autoplay stream of the broadcast, including commercials, but without sound. Here’s what it looked like a few minutes ago on my MacBook:

Yahoo says 43 million people a day visit its homepage. That number is presumably lower on a Sunday morning. But if it can get a big chunk of those visitors to see a couple minutes each, it will be in good shape — at least by the low bar it laid out for itself.

It is worth noting that Yahoo didn’t shove the game on every single one of its properties. Earlier in the day I noted that it was autoplaying the stream on its main Yahoo iOS app, though it doesn’t seem to be doing that now.

And when I visited Yahoo’s dedicated sports app, the home screen didn’t feature the game at all — instead it told me about the first World Series game, scheduled for Tuesday. That seems more like a bug than a feature, but who knows?

Other notes about today’s livestream, which by and large seems unremarkable, which means it’s a victory for Yahoo, the NFL and people who expect to watch sports without getting them through traditional TV programmers one day:

  • If you turned on the game and thought “this is just like watching an NFL game on TV,” there’s a reason for that. CBS handled all of the production for the game, just as it does when the NFL broadcasts games on its own cable network. You won’t see either Yahoo or CBS highlighting that fact, but it’s so.
  • Streaming live video is hard. It’s also hard to accurately assess — for most people — how well someone is streaming live video. There are many places for video streams to break along the path from the original game to your device, and different people — including you, the video streamer — are responsible for different parts of them. It’s possible, for instance, that the reason your stream looks choppy is because you’ve got a lousy router. What device you watch on matters, too: My Apple TV delivered a very nice image, most of the time, but my MacBook air delivered a degraded image quite often.
  • All of which is to say: Treat anecdotal reports of people loving, or hating, their livestream with real skepticism. But it seems like this one generally delivered an acceptable version of an NFL game to the people who tried watching it.
  • That said, we still don’t know what would happen if a lot of people — like the 20 million+ who tune for the NFL’s most popular Sunday games — wanted to watch an NFL game at the same on the Web. That’s primarily a moot point for now, since it seems unlikely that the NFL will put its most popular programming on a digital-only platform anytime soon. But it does need to be answered before that can happen.

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