Sunday, October 25, 2015

What to Expect From The NFL on Yahoo and Future Implications

We now have a clearer picture of how Yahoo's broadcast of the first ever exclusively live streamed football game wi transpire. Fortune reports that coverage will begin at 8 a.m. with a pregame show focused on fantasy football.

The pregame show, Yahoo's Fantasy Football Live, is the self-proclaimed longest running fantasy football show online and will see its biggest stage ever on Sunday morning. The pregame show will feature a preview of the game, an interview with Bills legend Jim Kelly, stories from Yahoo News global anchor Katie Couric and the fantasy implications of Sunday's game. The actual game broadcast will be produced by CBS Sports with Kevin Harlan, Rich Gannon and Jamie Erdahl calling the action from London.

Yahoo is also offering an alternative broadcast which is meant to serve as a more relaxed call of the game. Yahoo Sports' Shaun King, Larry Beil, Kirk Morrison, Jaguars insider Charlie Bernstein and Bills insider Chris Trapasso calling the game live from Yahoo's studios. The idea is similar to ESPN's yearly tradition of offering an alternative audio feeds to the College Football Playoff final. It is interesting to see Yahoo integrate personalities from other media outlets (Morrison works at Fox, Bernstein at Football Insiders and Trapasso at and CBS) onto their pregame show despite Yahoo's deep bench of NFL writers.  Some writers don't necessarily translate well into television commentators but I also believe Yahoo wanted experts of both teams on set rather than general personalities who haven't been following either team as closely. NFL Network's Dan Hellie, Heath Evans and Terrell Davis will also contribute to the pregame show live from NFL Network studios in Los Angeles.

The halftime show will be handled by CBS Sports with James Brown, Bart Scott, Tony Gonzalez, Boomer Esaison and Bill Cowher anchoring live from New York followed by a postgame show with the Fantasy Football Live team. There will also be a Spanish audio option available.

The telecast will done using CBS-style graphics without any branding from CBS. Yahoo has even created a mockup "NFL on Yahoo" logo which looks like a re-creation of CBS's own respective logo. CBS is being placed in charge of production because they already have the infrastructure available to do a football telecast unlike Yahoo. They are also the network which would normally broadcast from this game anyways because it is an AFC matchup. Although it has not been said publicly, I wouldn't be surprised if this was part of CBS's deal to renew Thursday Night Football. 

Part of the deal includes this clause:

The programming relationship between the NFL and CBS will expand to include, among other elements, the development of new programming initiatives across the various CBS and NFL platforms.

So far, this has included promoting NFL Network's programming on CBS (a live look in to NFL Gameday during NFL Today on Week 1, airing NFL Network's new show "Undrafted" in primetime, NFL Network commercials during sports programming and primetime). But it would also make sense if the NFL used some of CBS's games to experiment with their future. This is why besides having CBS produce all of the NFL Network's games and Yahoo's game, the NFL is letting CBS expand their streaming capabilities to test the future of live streaming online.

CBS has also played a minor role in promoting Sunday's Yahoo game. Besides running promotions about the game throughout their football telecasts last week, they also had their late night host James Corden come in studio to record funny segments for the NFL Network and NFL Now. One of the segments ran during the pregame show of Thursday Night Football two weeks ago while the others ran on NFL Network and NFL Now this week in order to promote the London flair which this game exemplifies. 

Unlike the Sunday and Monday football telecasts on Fox, NBC, ESPN and CBS; Yahoo's telecast will be co-produced with the NFL's media arm just as CBS's Thursday Night Football games are. This has helped Yahoo promote their game on various platforms which reach millions of football fans that Yahoo wouldn't normally have access to. NFL Media has also used their talent to promote the game on sports talk shows across the nation throughout the week. NFL Now even produced a multitude of short, sweet and funny online segments promoting the game which aired throughout the week on their site and raised awareness for the game.

Yahoo Sports sent their reporters to find different angles of the game and the teams playing which resulted in different in-depth news pieces and debates. The biggest investment Yahoo and the NFL made in promoting this game was teaming up with NBC's soccer duo, Men In Blazers. The soccer enthusiasts travelled to Buffalo and Jacksonville and got to know players, coachers and key staff members from both teams and interviewed them in a course of videos that were released daily over the past month. These men were chosen because of their connection to London and the online audience they reach.

Some soccer teams also got involved with promoting the game. Fulham FC, owned by the Jaguars' owner, released a Twitter video urging fans to #WatchWithTheWorld while the NFL's partner in Europe Tottenham Spurs teamed up with the Bills to release a Mortal Kombat parody of a Spurs player being talked by an Bills players. The Spurs typically feature NFL stars on their popular YouTube account to provide young fans of both sports an opportunity to connect with both brands. Expect more crossover videos to occur in the years to come now that the NFL and the Spurs are building a stadium together and will be attempting to gain a share of each entities fans around the world.

Some observers were surprised that Yahoo didn't take more risks with this telecast and didn't attempt to innovate the fan experience online versus on television, according to Mobile Marketer.

"In terms of significance, the NFL continues to be one of the most prestigious media plays in the traditional broadcast realm, delivering massive, highly engaged audiences around a core passion area," said Gian LaVecchia, managing partner of digital content marketing lead at MEC North America. "Although streaming will also exist on the NFL app, I think Yahoo still provides the unique value proposition of audience scale combined with an elegant video playing experience on both PC and mobile.

"In terms of the ad model, it is certainly replicating traditional formats but there appears to be a rational and valid reason, organic pauses in gameplay create downtime so it creates a natural aperture for brands to have a role," he said. "That said, I think there is certainly opportunity for greater innovation and creativity behind video ads. 

"Interactive games, deeper analysis, behind the scenes footage, multiple camera views etc., could help drive greater interactivity that could enhance the viewing experience."

Yahoo says they will be offering fans a chance to ask their fantasy experts questions through Twitter but it is a bit surprising to see that there will be no Twitter integration into the actual game telecast where fans could either follow tweets about the game or even tweet while watching without leaving Yahoo's page. 

Even if Yahoo didn't want to integrate with Twitter, they have a huge social media platform they own which is used by football fans which isn't seeing much integration other than the actual live stream also being available on its homepage - Tumblr. Yahoo should offer viewers a feed of what Tumblr's football fans are posting without having to leave the stream's page.

It is also surprising there is only one alternative feed being offered considering the vast amount of talent available to be used at both Yahoo and the NFL Network who could've hosted a feed with deeper analysis. An All-22 cam would've also been innovative. Even an option with just the natural sounds of the game or a fan cam or announcers who are British natives (maybe even the Men in Blazers themselves). 

The way in which the advertisers were integrated onto the broadcast seems so bland and traditional as well. I was expecting some branded content tailored to football fans but instead we're just getting the same old regular commercials you find on television already which no one pays attention to because they turn to Twitter.

I'm even surprised Yahoo Sports' GIF Maker isn't being integrated somehow.

I think many such as myself just expected a tech company to think a little more about changing the way fans have been watching football for decades through a web experience.

As CBS's Thursday Night Football games go up for bid next season, should we expect those games to go digital? No. Re/code's Peter Kafka puts it perfectly saying:

More likely is that the NFL sells off its Thursday games to a traditional TV network, and offers a few more low-stakes London games to digital outlets for the next couple of years. If Apple, or Google, or someone else with deep pockets and big ambitions wants to stream NFL games, they’ll probably end up waiting a few more years before it’s a reality.
If Yahoo's stream goes successfully, expect Yahoo to bid again against Google, Apple and Verizon for digital exclusive rights to next season's London games which the NFL will convince their network partners at Fox and CBS to give away. Also expect those digital brands to flirt with TNF in order to get the prices up for bids. CBS will end up winning out.

Next year will be an intriguing year for NFL rights among the digital outlets as Google continues to grow YouTube's subscription service, Verizon continues to grow its new app Go90 along with AOL and Huffington Post and Apple launches a TV service which is trying to draw users away from cable. 

Yahoo doesn't necessarily have a media strategy yet but has a knack for streaming live events even though they haven't become a huge revenue booster for the company. Will Yahoo be as incentived to carry NFL games as the other digital outlets when their own future is kind of blurry at the moment?

Photos: @alanspringer

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