A little more than 15 million people watched Yahoo’s livestream of the NFL’s Bills-Jaguars matchup yesterday, according to a statement. Both partners touted what they considered a high viewership for a fairly low-stakes game played overseas in an unusual time slot stateside.
But take a closer look, and the actual viewership — which can be defined any number of ways, especially online — isn’t nearly as high. First off, as we noted yesterday, Yahoo was pushing the livestream to anyone who visited its homepage, which on average sees about 43 million people a day. (I happened to see the livestream playing off the right rail of my Yahoo webmail inbox. Yes, I still use Yahoo mail.) Update: An NFL rep confirms everyone who witnessed the stream via autoplay was counted.
What’s still unclear from the statement was how many people were intentionally watching it and for how long on average — basically the equivalent of a TV Nielsen rating, which would offer a better comparison for that 15 million figure.
CNN’s Brian Stelter crunched the data and concluded that about 2.3 million people watched on average, or were watching simultaneously, the closest we’d get to a TV ratings number. NFL games broadcast on TV typically see at least five times that audience, underscoring what advertisers have known for a long time — the Web is a notoriously inefficient place to grab eyeballs, at least compared with TV, which still has the power to attract large audiences at the same time, with pro sports driving a large portion of live viewing.
Still, the digital livestream was a key experiment for both the NFL, which determines a lot of the economics of TV, and for Yahoo, which is still trying to figure out whether it wants to do media or not.
And no matter how you slice the numbers, millions of people watched a pro football game online, and that’s an experiment that all professional sports leagues are likely eyeing very closely. As cord-cutting becomes more of a thing, or as fewer younger folks bother signing up for cable or satellite TV, traditional TV programmers, including sports programmers, will have to make sure they’re showing their content in places where people are actually watching. Increasingly, that’s online.
This article originally appeared on Recode.net.