NFL Kickoff 2020: Yahoo Sports’ ‘Watch Together’ Syncs Four Video Calls in Live-Game-Streaming Experience

With an eye on 5G, the Verizon Media-owned brand leans into real-time video interactivity

Entering this unique NFL season, when many games will be played in stadiums with few or no fans, rightsholders and content creators are brewing up new ways to inject community into the live-game-viewing experience.

Verizon Media-owned Yahoo Sports, in its third year as mobile-streaming provider of NFL games, is introducing a new way to watch games with your friends, even when you can’t be in the same place. The new feature, Watch Together, allows users to watch a live game within the Yahoo Sports app and simultaneously host a video-based chat with up to four participants.

The new Watch Together feature in the Yahoo Sports app will allow users to watch a live NFL game with up to four users in a synchronized video chat.

“The best and the most impactful products that have come out in digital media over the last 15, 20 years were products that basically enabled folks to do things they always wanted to do,” says Yahoo Sports GM Geoff Reiss. “We don’t create new demand. What [we] have done with Watch Together has solved the most basic issue around sports, which, in my mind, is [that] sports is more fun to watch together. And it’s really hard to watch sports together right now.”

A couple of key technological factors play a major role in the product’s expected success: synchronized latency of the game with the video-chat experience (which a Yahoo Sports engineer noted is possible because the app is built entirely on its own video-technology stack through Verizon Media) and an intelligent sound element called “audio ducking,” which essentially rides the audio levels of the live game broadcast in real time in response to users as they speak to each other.

Over the past three years of this NFL deal, Yahoo Sports has prided itself in attempting to make the live game experience more and more immersive, and now, with 5G on the horizon [and parent company Verizon Media highly invested in its growth], that push into offering more visually immersive experiences is increasingly aggressive.

“We’re at the beginning of an exciting chapter,” says Reiss. “As things like 5G become more ubiquitous, the types of experiences that we’re going to be able to provide for fans are going to start to evolve rapidly, and the depth of those experiences is going to really get interesting.”

Yahoo plans to make Watch Together available on other events, such as live entertainment or music events, but the NFL will debut the feature.

The programming schedule for Watch Together is quite robust, starting tonight on the season opener between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Houston Texans (8:20 p.m. ET, NBC). It will also be active during Sunday Night Football on Sept. 12 (Dallas Cowboys at Los Angeles Rams, 8:20 p.m., NBC) and both Monday Night Football games on Sept. 14 (Pittsburgh Steelers at New York Giants, 7:10 p.m., ESPN; Tennessee Titans at Denver Broncos, 10:20 p.m., ESPN).

In addition to Watch Together, the Yahoo Sports app will introduce another feature this season. Yahoo Sports PlayAR graphical replay in its game-center experience leverages the NFL’s Next Gen Stats proprietary tracking data to create a full augmented-reality re-creation of key plays from every game on the NFL schedule.