Bills-Jaguars streaming game a milestone for NFL, sports in digital age

I’m not saying that I’m a die-hard NFL fan, but… oh, what’s the use? Of course I am. So I’ll be one of the early-morning fans watching the “historic” streaming of the Buffalo Bills/Jacksonville Jaguars game from London at 9:30 a.m. ET, Sunday.

The game is historic because it’s the first regular-season game being streamed around the world – at least the first NFL game streamed that’s not being pirated.

It’s not the best matchup of the season, of course, the Bills are a tepid 3-3, the Jaguars a dismal 1-5 and neither team has a bevy of stars most fans are desperate to see.

But, it will be interesting to see what kind of an audience the NFL and streaming partner Yahoo can draw.

Back in June, when the game was announced, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said the game was “another important step in that direction as we continue to closely monitor the rapidly evolving digital media landscape.”

It’s also available to TV viewers in Jacksonville and Buffalo, as usual.

Yahoo reportedly paid as much as $20 million for rights to the game in return for exclusive ad rights.

Said Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer about the deal: “We’re thrilled that the NFL has chosen Yahoo for this historic opportunity. It marks a significant change in the way users can access this amazing content.”

With an increasing number of consumers – especially Millennials – cutting the cord, or never signing up for a pay-TV package in the first place – the traditional audience for all content is becoming harder to reach. A recent study from Forrester, for instance, said that by 2025 it expects half of all U.S. consumers under 32 – a critical audience especially for professional sports — to not have a pay-TV subscription.

Content owners, including the Big Four of sports – the NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL – also are increasingly adding online to their playbooks.

They’re not alone. ESPN, and some sports on Turner Networks, for example, are available on Sling TV’s streaming service (with more sports available in its $5/mo. sports tier); CBS All Access streams all of the sports available on the network except for NFL games… and that, CEO Les Moonves has said in the past, is still being negotiated; Sony’s Vue includes network fare from CBS, NBC and Fox, as well as the Golf Channel, Fox regional sports channels and NBC’s sports network, among others.

A report today said North American sports revenue would hit $73.5 billion by 2019, and noted that the fastest-growing revenue stream over that period would be media rights, with streaming and other online pieces like VOD playing a major role.

In fact, media rights are expected to generate more revenue than any other segment, including gate revenues, by 2018.

The NFL is promoting this week’s game in London hard on its website, as is Yahoo. Could this week be a harbinger of things to come?

Absolutely. The risk of losing audience is scary – even to the NFL Machine.

As to the game itself, I’m thinking the most critical aspect will be pre-game planning: Bloody Mary’s or Mimosas?

Here’s how to watch Sunday’s game

You can watch on any browser (including mobile) at https://nflstream.yahoo.com

The live stream will be supported in the latest versions of these apps: Yahoo Sports; Yahoo; Yahoo Fantasy Sports; Tumblr; Yahoo Screen.

Connected devices including Amazon Fire TV; Apple TV; Chromecast; Roku; Samsung; TiVo; Vizio and the Xbox 360 can access the live stream at https://nflstream.yahoo.com.

Stay tuned.

Jim O’Neill is Editor of Videomind and Principal Analyst at Brightcove. You can follow him on Twitter @JimONeillMedia and on LinkedIn