What The NFL and Yahoo Live Stream Means For Advertisers & Data

Last Sunday, over 15.2 million unique viewers were watching the Buffalo Bills vs. the Jacksonville Jaguars. But instead of watching it on cable, fans were experiencing their first ever livestream on Yahoo.

So why is this a big deal? This could potentially change the way data is captured about sports fans and unlike traditional cable, there is now the opportunity for more interactivity  which means more nuanced data for advertisers. Also, streaming has now opened up the possibility for attracting and collecting data on an international audience.

While some believe the NFL and cable networks are far too codependent for this to be a real possibility, others predict this will massively change the way sports is consumed.

There’s Three Sides to Every Story

Flawless Data Victory for the NFL

The matchup was Buffalo Bills vs. Jacksonville Jaguars. To a domestic NFL audience, this game falls short of what anyone would call an “exciting game” and would typically attract a very limited US broadcast audience.

The digital feed, which was ad-supported and free to watch, delivered 15.2 million unique viewers, far overdelivering on its guarantee to participating advertisers of 3.2 million uniques. According to some sources, a 30-second spot went for $85k on average. This is down from the $200k Yahoo was reportedly asking for earlier in the year.

Still, the game was played in front of a soldout crowd at Wembley Stadium in London. And the 33% of the streaming audience were international viewers, from 185 different countries. If I was the NFL and I was trying to build international awareness, I would give myself a big pat on the back for this one.

Yahoo Remains Bullish On Streaming

From Yahoo’s perspective, purchasing the rights to the livestream is a bit more tenuous than the NFL’s decision to offer it up.

Yahoo has made some previously big bets in their effort to promote adoption of their video platform Yahoo Screen. You might remember that Yahoo picked up the on-again off-again cult TV hit ‘Community,’ which has turned out to be a less than profitable decision.

On the other hand, the NFL livestream afforded Yahoo the opportunity to promote their video platform to an emerging international audience as well as sell international inventory to advertising partners.

It remains unclear whether the livestream was in itself a profitable endeavor for Yahoo. However, the undertaking itself seems to further demonstrate that Yahoo is set on being a contender in the streaming video space alongside platforms like Netflix and Hulu, even if they have to take some hits along the way.

The Future of Advertising Remains A Bit Futuristic

Commercials during football games are notoriously some of the most sought after and expensive inventory you can buy. 30-second spots for the 2016 Super Bowl are going for as much as $5M a pop.

As reported by AdAge, one of the more curious outcomes of the livestream was the absence of some of professional football’s biggest spenders. FanDuel, Verizon, DraftKings, Geico, McDonalds, Bud Light, and Michelob all passed on buying time on the digital feed.

The most obvious theory would say that these brands weren’t confident that the livestream would deliver the eyeballs the live stream promised. If so, they missed out, as Yahoo way overdelivered on the audience size.

Another theory would say that they were satisfied with their current football spend on broadcast. TV remains a tried and true way to reach consumers, and in an increasingly fragmented media landscape, TV still feels safe.

I have my own theory. It’s not exclusive of the two outlined above but I believe it gets to the heart of the matter. Digital has not made good on its promise. Yet.

Conceptually, digital presents a highly personalized avenue directly to consumers. In practice, digital is an untameable unquantifiable beast. Clicks are great, but most traffic remains anonymous. Cookies expire. You can’t track people across devices. Adblock is becoming the norm. Plus, most of your digital spend is serving impressions to bots anyway.

Conclusion: Reaching People, Not Just Eyeballs, Matters More

Ultimately, the goal of advertising isn’t to buy eyeballs, it’s to reach people. And they want that reach to not just produce revenue, but also form relationships. The future of digital is one with more trust between content creators, distribution platforms, advertisers, and consumers. More trust means more sharing, particularly of data.

Metrics around deliverability and viewability are important. But the real opportunity lies in addressability. You want eyeballs attached to people with names and emails and phone numbers and facebook pages. Traditional channels can’t do that, but done correctly, digital could.

Omnichannel, personalization, and all of the other aspirational buzzwords that float around the nebulous world of marketing tech all start with addressability. From there, it’s all about trust and cooperation.

And we’re not there yet. But we will be soon if Umbel has anything to say about it.