Streaming Media West '15: Yahoo Takes the NFL Global
In October, London’s Wembley Stadium hosted a game between the Buffalo Bills and the Jacksonville Jaguars—the first NFL game delivered globally and exclusively via OTT outside of the teams' home markets, with no viewing restrictions. Yahoo delivered the stream, and the company's PPS Narayan and Omer Luzzatti walked the Streaming Media West keynote audience through the decisions around the joint effort by NFL and Yahoo to deliver this to the global experience.
Narayan began by focusing on the business strategy behind streaming the game, before Luzzatti went into some of the technical details. Narayan noted that almost any NFL game played in the United States quickly becomes the number one sporting event in the country. The Super Bowl generates 120 million viewers, but even the regular games are highly watched.
"In last year’s fall line up, 45 of the 50 most-watched shows were NFL games," said Narayan, "and all of the top 20 most watched shows on television are NFL games."
Narayan then stated the case for Yahoo, when it comes to being NFL’s partner in broadcasting this historic game to an over-the-top (OTT) only audience. Yahoo has more than one billion users, it hosts a number of the top sports franchises, has a global sales reach for e-commercie, and is known as a technical innovator in the online industry.
"When the NFL came to us and asked about our doing the game on October 25, we were super excited," said Narayan. "We had about four months to prepare for the event."
Dubbed the first ever global live stream of an NFL game, Narayan said that both the NFL and Yahoo had a goal of reaching an audience across the world. In addition, Yahoo wanted to grow the audience that the NFL might not be able to reach on its own overseas.
"We didn’t want to make the user experience as good as TV, we wanted to make it better than TV," said Narayan.
The show used the Twitter hashtag #WatchWithTheWorld, and the hashtag became the number three tag on Twitter, and was number one globally on Instagram.
What were the results? According to Narayan, Yahoo had 33 million streams, with 15 million unique viewers. Approximately 33% of all viewers (around 5 million unique viewers) viewed the game globally in 185 countries.
What about the quality? Yahoo delivered 720p at 60 frames per second at up to 6.7Mbps. In addition, Yahoo claims that the rebuffering ratio for the game was less than half of the U.S. desktop ratio (0.6% rebuffering for Yahoo versus the industry standard of 1.4% for desktops).
Luzzatti then took the stage, sharing how the stream was delivered, including a focus on three key adaptive bitrate (ABR) metrics: buffering ratios, average bitrate, and player start times.
"There are other metrics for ABR, but we decided to focus on these three," said Luzzatti.
Luzzatti then took the audience through the way that ABR works, comparative to the network bandwidth availability. He showed a popular ABR technology, noting that its buffer meant that it both lagged behind the network availability and also would choke if the network fluctuated widely downward.
By contrast, while Luzzatti said there is still work to be done, he showed how Yahoo’s internally built ABR handled network fluctuations better than the more popular ABR that most live events use. Recovery was stronger in Yahoo’s ABR technology, as was the ability for ABR to rise closer to the available bandwidth faster than the comparative ABR technology.
In addition, Luzzatti then talked about the use of a "video routing policy server" which dictates the range of the actual streams a given player will receive, as well as which CDN a particular player is recommended to use. Yahoo used an example of five player sizes, starting with a small window in Yahoo Mail that allowed users that were emailing to keep track of the game.
Luzzatti noted that there’s no reason to go to 6Mbps for such a small window, which would be around the size of 200x300 pixels, so the policy server would allow ABR rates up to 1Mbps.
All in all, there were five player sizes, as well as profiles for 14 devices and OS types. As part of the challenge by the technical committee, Yahoo delivered 60 frames per second for some—but not all—devices. Again, the policy server was of benefit here, allowing a decision to be enforced as to whether 60fps or 30fps would be used.
In addition the browsers also needed to be addressed. Yahoo chose five browsers to focus on—Chome, Firefox, Internet Explorer, Opera, and Safari—and seven geographical zones that were dictated by the group of CDN partners that Yahoo worked with for the London game.
At peak, 7 terabits were provided by the 7 CDNs that Yahoo worked with to deliver the game. At one point, early in the game, a fiber was cut, so a single CDN was taken out of the mix. Other issues arose with several CDNs, and Luzzatti said that “all in all, we had 29 issues throughout the game” but only two caused significant impact.
Finally, Luzzatti noted that delivery from London to Yahoo headends entailed redundancy: Yahoo received two satellite streams and two fiber-based streams, meaning redundancy of both fiber and satellite streams.
All decision were managed from an executive decision center, which had direct connections to both a control room and Yahoo’s production studio.
"The whole company came together, as well as a number of our partners," said Narayan. "It was a joint effort for us to deliver this OTT event for the NFL."
"We believe it was a tremendous success," an NFL executive stated in a quote on Narayan’s slides. "I have to give all the credit to Yahoo, they did a phenomenal job with the game."
"What did we prove?" asked Narayan. "The NFL has a global audience, and Yahoo has a global reach. Going forward, we perceive there will be a growing number of these OTT-only events and Yahoo will power a number of those."
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