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NFL tackles the digital age via Yahoo

The Oct. 25 game recorded 15.2 million viewers and marked the first time the football league has streamed its content to a global audience.
October 26, 2015

With its Q3 earnings revealing an 8% drop in net revenues over the previous year and the costly flop of three of its digital originals, including its signature series, Community, it’s no doubt been a rough few months for Yahoo.

On Sunday, though, with a fresh quarter underway, the California-based tech giant was back in the game, this time making history with the National Football League’s first-ever global live-stream.

The Oct. 25 event, which saw the Jacksonville Jaguars defeat the Buffalo Bills 34 to 31 as part of the NFL’s international series played in London’s Wembley Stadium, attracted 15.2 million viewers across platforms, including desktop, mobile, tablet and connected TV, according to statistics supplied by Yahoo.

The game auto-played on Yahoo.com and, while the broadcast saw 33.6 million total views across devices on Yahoo and Tumblr, some of that time (460 million minutes of the game) may be attributable to autoplay on devices of viewers who never actually watched, or wanted to watch, the game.

A third of the streams came from an estimated 185 countries outside the U.S., Yahoo data suggests.

By contrast, NBC Sunday Night Football in the U.S. won 19.6 million viewers on Oct. 5, making it the most-watched program that week, according to Nielsen. Thursday night football on CBS ranked fourth for the week with 15 million viewers.

The streaming numbers were sufficient enough to prompt an enthusiastic thank you to fans and Yahoo staff alike from Adam Cahan, Yahoo’s SVP of product and engineering.

“We’re seeing more and more people shift away from TV and we’re thrilled to join the NFL in setting a new standard for sports programming,” he said in a statement.

Going into the game, Yahoo had also secured more than 30 corporate sponsors, including American Express, Arby’s, Bose, Cadillac, Emirates Airlines, Kohl’s, Snickers, Subway and T-Mobile. Dairy Queen was the pre-game sponsor, with Toyota sponsoring the half-time show. Brands were given the option to select global or U.S.-only advertising to reach the most attractive audiences with their messaging.

The live stream comes as Yahoo looks to narrow its overall business strategy moving forward, delivering “fewer products with higher quality,” said Marissa Mayer, CEO, in an Oct. 19 live-stream of the company’s Q3 earnings report to shareholders.

In particular, Mayer promised more focus on mobile in the coming year, with a sharp eye on expanding viewer engagement levels across all devices.

“That is ultimately what will drive long-term growth,” she said.

As part of the earning report, Ken Goldman, Yahoo CFO, said the company’s investment in original video production was behind a $42 million impairment charge in Q3 on the value of its video assets. (An impairment charge is commonly defined as a reduction in a company’s stated capital. )

Specifically, Goldman called out Community and Sin City Saints, along with a third original series he didn’t identify by name. (Other media reports indicate it is the series Other Space.)

“We’re not saying that we’re not going to do these again in the future,” said Goldman. “What we are saying is that, in three cases, at least, it didn’t work the way we had hoped it would work and we decided to move on and basically write off those assets and preclude us from having to amortize that going forward.”

Yahoo produced 13 new episodes of Community in a high-profile move into originals announced earlier year after the linear series, which starred comedian Joel McHale, was cancelled by NBC. Season six was made exclusively available to viewers on the free, ad-supported streaming service, Yahoo Screen. Yahoo execs had talked publicly about producing a seventh season, but McHale quickly put an end to the speculation, noting that the stars’ profiles had all risen dramatically during the show’s run, making contract renewals an increasingly expensive venture.

With files from Sonya Fatah, Media in Canada

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