Yahoo's first-ever live stream of an NFL game garnered 15.2 million unique viewers, a number that lands it squarely between average unique viewers for Thursday Night Football online streams and Monday Night Football streams, according to NFL.com.
Thursday Night Football averages 17.6 million uniques while Monday Night Football averages 13.5 million, according to a Monday Morning Quarterback article.
However, Yahoo may need to improve its streaming capability, with Business Insider reporting that some viewers experienced buffering, skipping and pixelation issues, particularly while viewing the game on desktop or laptop computers.
Dedicated streaming devices like Roku or Apple TV performed better, according to informal reports made to BI.
The NFL has been slow to adopt live streaming of its games, partly because of existing agreements with broadcasters. Viewers have been able to watch pre-recorded highlights and archival footage at NFL.com and on its mobile apps, but until Sunday, the league had not exclusively live-streamed a regular season game (it did live stream this year's Super Bowl).
The partnership with Yahoo was one of a number of proof-of-concept moves that the NFL is making as it explores the best way to jump further into online streaming. "We're a lot closer to the internet being a real, legitimate distribution platform for NFL games than we were one or two years ago," said Brian Rolapp, EVP of online media, in the MMQB article.
Yahoo reported that in addition to 15.2 million uniques, the game saw more than 33.6 million total visits across all devices on Yahoo and Tumblr. Of that total, 33 percent of viewers were international, watching the game from more than 185 countries.
According to the NFL, the live stream boosted viewership of a game that otherwise might not have had many viewers, due to its UK location which set the kickoff time at 9:30 a.m. Eastern time. "We are incredibly excited by the fact that we took a game that would have been viewed by a relatively limited television audience in the United States and by distributing it digitally were able to attract a global audience of over 15 million viewers," said Hans Schroeder, SVP of media strategy for the NFL.
Online video analysts may have expressed skepticism that Yahoo's planned live-stream of an NFL regular-season game would have any effect on its still-shaky revenues, but advertisers appeared to be enthusiastic about the first-time test. Yahoo said it sold out all of its ad space for the game to more than 30 advertisers.
Yahoo signed numerous major brands including American Express, Cadillac, Microsoft, Papa John's, Snickers and Toyota, among several others, who will advertise during the live stream of the NFL International Series game between the Buffalo Bills and Jacksonville Jaguars at Wembley Stadium in the UK. Dairy Queen is sponsoring Yahoo's pre-game show, and Toyota is sponsoring the halftime show.
Online viewers saw a faster-paced game, as Yahoo's stream had about seven or eight fewer minutes of advertising than a typical TV broadcast of an NFL game.
This is a significant test for both Yahoo and the NFL. It's a proof-of-concept for Yahoo's video platform, both in its ability to hold up to a surge in viewers and in the level of appeal the online game will have. For the NFL, it's a test of the game's popularity outside the U.S. -- it's likely banking on the popularity of over-the-top live streaming of sports like soccer, during the World Cup, to drive views globally.
"We've created a new way for viewers to enjoy one of their favorite sports live on Yahoo, along with amazing opportunities for advertisers to reach these digital fans whether they watch on their desktop, smartphone, tablet or connected TV," Yahoo CFO Lisa Utzschneider said in a release.
However, the euphoria could be short-lived for Yahoo if the game doesn't perform to expectations. The $20 million rights deal only extends to this one game, and the NFL hasn't guaranteed that Yahoo will be able to stream additional games.
On the Hot Seat: Yahoo's Utzschneider on the potential of cross-platform advertising
Yahoo sharpens its focus on core business as Mavens revenue jumps 43 percent
Google, Yahoo, AOL go head-to-head with new platforms, strategies
NFL confirms Yahoo will live-stream regular-season game
Updated Oct. 26 with post-game streaming stats and quotes.