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Yahoo attracts 15M viewers for live-streamed NFL game

Yahoo's first-ever live stream of an NFL game yielded big numbers: 15.2 million unique viewers, 33.6 million video streams, and over 460 million total minutes of video consumed, the Internet company said Monday.

And these numbers for the game played in London don't include digital viewing in China, the TV audience from over-the-air stations in the local Buffalo and Jacksonville markets, or the London/U.K. markets. Perhaps the most important statistic for the promise of more sports leagues to live stream games: 33 percent of the audience, about 5 million viewers, were overseas.

Yahoo begins live streaming NFL games.
Getty Images
Yahoo begins live streaming NFL games.

This comes after mixed reviews for the experience of watching the game. There were many complaints on social media and other outlets that parts of the game buffered or were pixilated. Others noted that watching the feed on a TV — via the NFL app on Xbox Live — was not as smooth as on mobile devices. (And of course, people are likely to want to watch football on a giant screen, rather than a smartphone, given the choice.)

Brian Rolapp, the NFL's EVP of media, said the response was good. "The feedback we've gotten from advertisers has been across-the-board positive. They are premium brands looking for a high-quality experience, and that's what they got," he said.

So how did the number of streams compare? The NFL says the 15.2 million uniques is less than the 17.6 million the NFL averages for Thursday Night football, but more than the 13.5 million average for Monday Night football. But if the viewership is evaluated based on the 460 million-plus total minutes of video consumed, the numbers are less impressive.

With the game lasting 195 minutes, that divides to average viewership of 2.36 million viewers per minute. That compares with an average of 10 million to 20 million TV viewers for an NFL game. But for a game like the Buffalo Bills vs. the Jacksonville Jaguars, which would normally be distributed to regional TV networks, it would have at best drawn about a million viewers.

The fact that this game drew 5 million international viewers indicates that the NFL will look to cash in on that international interest in football by licensing more of their smaller, regional games, as it looks to generate incremental revenue. Most of their games are tied up through the 2020-2021 season, but where there's opportunity to earn some more money, the NFL will likely take it.

With Yahoo spending nearly $20 million for the rights to the game, and heavily promoting viewership on its home page, we'll see whether Yahoo bids for more games, or if others, such as YouTube or even Facebook jump in for those rights.

Disclosure: CNBC has a content-sharing partnership with Yahoo's finance site.