The NFL said in a statement Wednesday that Yahoo is its "exclusive partner to deliver the first-ever live stream of an NFL game to a global audience across devices and for free. It will still air in the Bills' and Jaguars' home markets.
Seventeen people, many of them standing, face a wall of screens.
On the two largest, the hosts of Fantasy Football Live , Yahoo's decade-old web show about fantasy football, are discussing their best bets for the week to come. Producer Evan Doherty has a chair but is too restless to use it.
Tall and spiky-haired, he talks constantly into his black headset mic, ordering shots and telling the hosts to wrap it up and move on to the next segment.
He tugs at his shirt, a black polo embroidered with a Yahoo Sports logo. He rubs his hands together, purses his lips, and jiggles his legs like a restless kid waiting for school to end.
The day is coming when people will stop subscribing to cable altogether. Yahoo has to be there. Doherty has produced and hosted shows more complicated than this, but the stakes are higher today. According to the big red numbers counting down on the clock, the team has 85 minutes until Yahoo's coverage turns to the Buffalo Bills-Jacksonville Jaguars game being broadcast live from Wembley Stadium in London.
It's a glimpse into the future of sports, and television. It's also a chance for Yahoo to show everyone what it can do with technology and content. So it pivoted: rather than chase Hulu and Netflix and the like, Yahoo is trying to go where millions of people already congregate: sports.
Yahoo's spent weeks promoting, testing, and rehearsing for this game.
It's streamed other NFL games to no one, worked with network partners around the world, and tested every gadget it can think of. It all works. All that's left to do is pray the game doesn't suck. But it was a chance for Yahoo to prove it can do live video, an opportunity to establish itself as the go-to place for the transition from cable TV to Internet TV.
The day is coming, he says, when people will stop subscribing to cable. Sports are a uniquely powerful agent for that change. Live sports, on the other hand, move the industry.
Yahoo's thinking is that people will go where the games are, and then all it has to do is keep them around when it ends. Yahoo doesn't seem to care about recouping that money—and almost certainly didn't. This is a chance to show the NFL—and advertisers—what it can offer over time.
Yahoo says it worked with 30 domestic and international partners and locked up some big-name sponsors.
It's appealing to advertisers, because the enterprise offers the data of online ads and the reach of television.
It has apps for every platform you can think of, and supports most dongles, boxes, and sticks. The technical infrastructure is robust.
But an NFL game is another thing entirely. The football audience is much bigger, for one thing, and has little tolerance for low resolution or lag. In all, Yahoo streamed 8.
Few people's connections can support such ridiculous throughput, so Yahoo made its stream more adaptive. The software knows the quality of your network and the size of your screen, and tries to deliver the best picture possible. As long as it's not buffering, that is.
After all, TV doesn't buffer. Yahoo's job was mostly to make sure things stayed live. Representatives from nearly every team at the company sat in a room, their noses in laptops, constantly providing status updates. In the control room, everyone watched a panel of twelve screens showing the status of the fiber feed and satellite backups.
The real show is down the hall, in another Yahoo studios. Two card tables are set up in a V, facing a giant unbranded television. Six men sit at six mics, trying something new: an alternative, fan- and fantasy-driven audio stream for the game.
It's the middle of the second quarter, the Bills just turned the ball over again, and the Jags are about to go up King, having shed his pre-game show outfit of shirt, tie, suit jacket, and camo cargo shorts in favor of a polo shirt and camo cargo shorts, leans back in his flimsy chair, giggling.
He's spent the last 15 minutes telling everyone how horrible Bills quarterback EJ Manuel is. Morrison shakes his head. When the game breaks for a commercial, King sips his tea, pumps his fists, and shouts "Yes!
We killing them! Yahoo didn't want to try too many new things and risk pissing off fans or the NFL. But the "fantasy broadcast" is the start of something big, says Yahoo Sports executive producer Ryan Dornbusch.
He argues that the buttoned-up, straightforward CBS show "is not authentic to what a viewer is saying on their couch as they're slapping their heads, frustrated.
It was great fun. The fantasy broadcast is the start of something big for Yahoo's coverage. Dornbusch notes that this is how most people experience the game—as fans, with biases and feelings and money on the line—and thinks Yahoo can cover it that way, too.
It makes them care more, which makes the audience care more. If Yahoo is the future home of football, fantasy will be a big part of it.
The NFL and Yahoo teamed up to make a powerful statement during this event.
During the pregame show—which, don't forget, is called Fantasy Football Live—every player card they showed included the player's positional fantasy rank. Just before the game started, everyone in the green room was on their phones setting their lineup.
During the broadcast, Yahoo fantasy expert Brad Evans dropped in a few times to talk about how different players were doing in Yahoo leagues. When the guys discussed a player's performance, they didn't discuss his yardage or touchdowns.
They talked about fantasy points. They also discussed his dollar value in daily fantasy, an increasingly key part of the Yahoo Sports puzzle. Part of what Yahoo hopes to do with fantasy in general is bring more people into watching sports.
Fantasy is to football what your bracket pool is to March Madness: an easy way to get excited about a few teams before you get hooked on the game.