NFL case study
Customer Story

How the NFL Delivers a Great Video Experience

At a Glance

The National Football League (NFL) is the largest professional American football league, attracting millions of viewers and making it one of the most-watched sports leagues globally. In this case study, you will learn how the NFL delivers an unparalleled live streaming experience across platforms and devices for NFL+.

The case study focuses on choices made and actual experiences regarding video playback and real-time monitoring, with the objective of making every streaming session a touchdown for fans.

Case study recording:


Elevating the NFL's Video Streaming Experience

Willem: All right, welcome everybody here in sunny Las Vegas at the streaming summit. Thank you for coming out as full audience. Very happy to have Michael from the NFL here on stage with us. Today we will be diving into choices made and actual experiences regarding video playback and real-time monitoring at the NFL. As you probably all know about THEO Technologies, let me give a bit of an introduction about the NFL. NFL is the biggest professional American football league here in America, attracting millions of viewers across the globe, making it one of the largest sports leagues in the world. A bit of an intro about THEO Technologies. We are a video streaming technology company making complex video problems easy for our customers by a range of products. Our flagship product, THEOplayer, most of you will know. It boosts the revenue of our customers by reaching and monetizing more platforms. It allows our customers' teams to focus on their core business. And it aims to bring premium experiences in the fast and most efficient way. That's the intro I wanted to do.

We work globally with tier one media and entertainment companies and sports leagues. Here in the US, we've been working with the NFL for a year now. So, we wanted to give you some insights in how that has been going, how we have been supporting them reaching their video goals and letting them deliver a great video experience. My name is Willem De Sager, VP Sales North America for THEO Technologies. I'm very happy to welcome Michael Blanchard from the NFL here. Michael, could you give us a quick introduction of yourself?

Michael: Yeah, thanks Willem. My name is Michael Blanchard, director of platform engineering for the NFL. Since platform means something different to everybody. Specifically, for me that means my team's lead,, our CTV applications, our video player, and certain of our back-end services. I've been around football my entire life. I was fortunate enough to play in college and played for one year in Denmark and Spain after graduating, but unfortunately, I wasn't quite good enough to play in the NFL, so I had to settle for being a software engineer for the NFL. Ultimately, I've been around the league for about seven years now, all the way from when the video was only available for one carrier in our applications all the way now that it's front and center everywhere. So yeah, really excited to be here.

Unveiling NFL Plus
Revolutionizing the Fan Experience with Direct-to-Consumer Streaming

Willem: Thank you, Michael. Today we will dive into how the NFL delivers such a great video experience. Michael, to understand that it's paramount to understand a bit better the NFL app and the NFL Plus service. Where is it coming from? What's the background? What are the goals and the focus areas of the service?

Michael: Yeah. So, NFL Plus is our two-year-old direct-to-consumer product offering. It's primarily focused on the live local and national games on your mobile and tablet devices. And it also includes NFL Network and NFL Red Zone linear channels across all of those platforms. And so, you see here, we're really excited that we just launched about a week and half ago a new mobile application where the video is front and center in that experience. And we find, you know, during the season, video's a pretty big part of our users' experience, roughly about half of that time spent in the app. And then, NFL Plus being the primary way in which users are able to authenticate in and watch that content, but our apps also offer an interesting kind of one-stop shop that nobody else has where you can log in with, NFL plus, like I said, of course, Sunday ticket, all of your TV providers, Peacock, Paramount Plus, ESPN Plus, all really so you can watch it all there.

And I want to make sure that I bring up that, you know, my team focuses on the video player and the front-end client experiences, but we have a really tireless streaming video group who's able to make sure that we have the best quality output to put in those, put in our products at all times throughout the season. So really a lot of folks come together to create that experience and put NFL Plus front and center.

Willem: Okay, very cool.

The Video Player as Foundation
Enhancing the NFL's Premium Viewing Experience

Willem: It's interesting how you mentioned that 50% of the time that the viewer watches the app is in the video player. I'm assuming a lot of the people in the room are working on the video streaming workflow, which is a big workflow, but it all comes together in the video player, right? All the protocols, the codecs, the ad insertion, the DRM. So that's where, although there's a lot of things going on, the video player is the most and only visible customer-facing component in a video streaming workflow. So that's why we try to make that as good as possible. The NFL wants a premium video experience, as we can imagine. To be able to continuously improve that experience, to be able to do that, you obviously got to have a baseline. How are you tracking or measuring your quality of experience today?

Michael: Yeah, so we have overall application like crash and performance monitoring, both at the client level and in our backend services. And then we really focus on with that QoE getting, I know I mentioned our streaming group, they're able to see the performance of the encoders and the CDNs and the client level QoE with our Conviva data. It really depends on the quality of input that we're doing to that, how much action we can take on that. That's been a thing that we've made a lot of huge strides on over the course of the last year.

Willem: Okay. I'm glad that you explained that.

Optimizing Video QoE
Leveraging Consistent Event Tracking for Enhanced Performance

Willem: Can you tell us a bit more about your video QoE measurements and the importance of tracking the right video player events?

Michael: Yeah, so not only the specific types of events, but making sure that the inputs across all the platforms are consistent has been something that we focused on as we brought on THEOplayer. And so, whereas before, we were spending a lot of time tweaking and trying to identify where maybe some of the discrepancies lied across our different platforms. And so really making sure that those are the same so we can look at a single pane of glass to see across all of those platforms like I mentioned. But then making sure that we're hitting all of those core events and continuing to expand on those.

Willem: Cool, I'm glad your teams now have these rights data points and the analytics integration between the player and your analytics stack. So, we can do the weekly retrospectives on how to improve your experience together with your teams and our teams, looking at the data itself and making actionable insights out of that.

Fan-Centric Innovation
How NFL's Technical Decisions Enhance the Fan Experience

Willem: You mentioned earlier, the NFL is all about the fans. Can you elaborate a bit on how that drove your technical decisions over the past years?

Michael: Yeah, so like so many businesses, we want to focus on the things that are core to us, like creating the best home of football, the best fan football-based experience. And so, we want to partner with folks who are the best in their particular area. We say we like to partner with folks who can focus on the blocking and tackling so we can be the quarterbacks of the overall fan experience. And a big piece of that is our cross-platform approach. We have utilized React Native to build our applications. 

Willem: That's all right.

Streamlining Cross-Platform Development
NFL's Journey with React Native and Unified Video Player Integration

Willem: So, we were talking about the technological decisions you've made, so you mentioned you want to be cross-platform, so you wanted to do React Native.

Michael: Yeah, yeah, so like six and half years ago or so, we decided, we knew we needed to be able to support more platforms with similar size team that we already had and so we really doubled down on, we focused on React Native. For anybody who's not aware. React Native as a technology allows you to have a single JavaScript-based code that can power your iOS, Android, or even web applications. So, from a single source of code, you can power all of those different platforms. And so that's the path that we took our independent iOS, Android, and web teams and merged them all together. And then the biggest piece that I was working on at that time was our new video player there. It’s utilized across all of our mobile applications, across, all 32 of the club websites, and then later on, all of our connected TV apps as well. And so, we knew we had to go in and build all of the abstraction layer within our code that allowed us to say, you know, we manage the business logic around making sure who has access to what. We had our own UI controls, as well as ultimately. Yeah, so we have that abstraction layer that allowed the video player to be utilized across all of those platforms, and that's been really helpful for us.

Willem: Okay, cool. It's great to hear that partners like THEO allow you to focus on your core business. That's what we aim to do. As the player is only one component in the end-to-end chain, we need to work well with other partners as well, like with your analytics service.

Engineering Excellence
NFL's Strategic Technical Choices for Seamless Cross-Platform Integration

Willem: Now that we've covered NFL app and NFL plus service a little bit, can you dive a bit more into the technical choices that got you to today?

Michael: Yeah. And so, we talked about the React Native approach and how we knew we needed to focus on having as minimal surface area to our code, but have this is the, like the React teams taglines: “Write once, deploy everywhere.” And so that's really a core piece of how we've been able to accomplish the breadth of platforms and devices that we've been on.

Willem: And now we're presenting it here, so I'm assuming you made the right choice on the video player side as well.

Selecting the Perfect Video Player Partner
NFL's Criteria and Decision-Making Process

Willem: Can you tell us a little bit more about what you were looking for in a video player partner and how you approached it and how you made that decision?

Michael: Yeah, so not to focus on the same thing, but we are a very small team and so. We knew that we needed to have, not just all of the platform support, but a core part of that was having a singular interface across each of those platforms. And then another big piece there is we wanted a partner whose core focus was on the player and all of the technology around that. And along with that, we have embedded partners along with, we mentioned Conviva and the different parts of our analytics, as well as our advertising ecosystem. And so, we needed to know that the partner that we chose works well with them, whether it was already an existing integration or is just open to doing that. And then obviously, of course, they need to be able to take care of the core features, supporting all of the formats, auto bit rate, everything like that. So those are really. the important aspects that we had to look at as we were making that decision.

Willem: Cool.

Fostering Productivity and Collaboration
NFL's Partnership with THEO Technologies

Willem: And you mentioned earlier also, like the productivity of our team, you liked. Can you, can you tell us a little bit more on, on why you value that so much in a vendor?

Michael: Yeah. So, I mean, like I said, our team is really focused on the client development, both on the visuals on top of the player, as well as like what you see around the rest of the application before you get into the video. And so, we needed a partner who could teach us the things that we weren't aware of already about it. And so, we found that over the last year, you mentioned with the weekly retros. And so, from the time that we first started with the draft all the way through, during the regular season and pre-season, we would constantly meet, and now that we were given good inputs to that QoE metrics, we're able to see areas of opportunity, and regularly improve the numbers week after week. And so, I mean, not just in those areas, but even in our code, whenever we were integrating it, you were able to take a look at what we were doing, and it worked out really nicely. And each of those connectors being open source as well was really helpful, because if there was a slight difference in how we expected it, or maybe one of the pieces on our side was a little bit incompatible, we had the ability to go in, and actually patch that or create a pull request to the GitHub repo where it all existed.

Willem: Those are very kind words, but also kudos to your team because without the abstraction layer that your team had on top of all the video players, it would have been a much tougher player swap.

Navigating Player Swaps
NFL's Seamless Transition with Play Action and A-B Testing

Willem: I can imagine in the room there are some people in a similar position like you as well who had players across platforms for years and see the challenges it has, but also see the challenges of swapping. A full player swap like you've done it now a year ago, like can you share some of your experience on how you did it and lessons you've learned doing a player swap and maybe any tips for people who are considering it?

Michael: Sure. So, I mentioned before that we have an abstraction layer within our code on top of the underlying video player. When we started that about six and a half years ago, that was, we were making a different transition at that time. So, we knew that at some point again in the future, we might need to support two, maybe it's just for a one-off kind of business dealing or whatever, might have to have more than one underlying video player within our apps at the same time. And so, we called it Play Action as we sometimes like to have fun football names there. And so, its responsibility, like I said, was managing the UI and all the different player state. And then, you can switch between different players with feature flags, for instance. And so, during the course of the THEO migration, as we were building it out, we were able to have the THEOplayer behind a feature flag. So, we could continue delivering, shipping our app, and our QA team could test that live in the same app as everybody else. And then when it came time to actually launch it, we're able to use A-B testing to say. All right, let's say for instance, on day one of draft, we want to go live with you know, just iOS for instance, we're able to get that level of granularity. And so, each time we turned on a new platform, we're able to take a look at the QoE metrics and make sure that our fans were getting at least as good, if not better, obviously, hopefully better of an experience whenever we switched it on, and then gradually turn it on platform by platform with that A-B testing. And so, like, that extended even a little bit after the initial launch, where we were able to say, look, for all folks involved, this is obviously a very major decision, major change. And so, for all the folks in leadership and everybody else who's testing it, we say, both players are still there. Breaking case of glass, we are able to switch back live in production if we have to. Fortunately, we didn't, but just having that ability, same app, same code, being able to switch between the two, we, I guess, the only downside there is, they both look relatively similar for a lot of it. So, I remember during the initial one, put a little yellow border around the player so that we knew whenever the THEOplayer was active. Yeah, that's a.

Willem: Wasn't it a red border?

Michael: Initially it was yellow, then we changed it. Yeah, so yeah, keeping both side by side for a little while longer allowed people to feel comfortable that if we needed to ever test anything else, we could do that. But that mechanism definitely increased the level of comfort as we went through that migration.

Willem: That's great to hear.

Efficiency in Integration
NFL's Swift Migration to THEOplayer within Four Months

Willem: It really brings me back to the draft of last year, which was a moment that we ported it over and we had some of our European team even on calls at night, like making sure nothing went wrong, but it didn't. So that was great to see. Can you remind us, and maybe also people who are looking to do a player swap, like how long the integration took and how long it took to replicate the experience you had been building for the years before?

Michael: Yeah, so I think this is a great testament to the product that y'all had out there. We started doing some initial investigations in the December time frame, January. But ultimately, within those first four months of the year, we were able to get it up to the time, excuse me, get that up to the level that we felt comfortable going to production. without losing any of the fidelity that we had built out over the last few years before that.

Willem: All right, and you were using React Native already for six years, you mentioned earlier.

Overcoming Integration Hurdles
NFL's Transition to React Native and Unified Analytics

Willem: Let's dive a bit deeper into that. What were some of the key challenges you had seen having to use multiple players with React Native before and porting your video platform pipeline across all those platforms?

Michael: Yeah, so, before when we built our own native modules, effectively we had to make all of that translation between the underlying native code and bridging that into the JavaScript and normalizing the API across all of them. And then as we looked at expanding to other platforms, we had to make sure that it was compatible with some of these smart TV platforms, right, having older versions of code than you would think you needed to support. And then similarly with some of the partner SDKs around analytics and other things like that, where a lot of people now already have React Native SDKs where they're taking into account iOS and Android. But for the way that we build some of our applications, we also need that additional web support. And so really taking all of that into view with the React Native library is something that was really helpful. Excuse me. I think that was a really good part of it.

Willem: Yeah, and the integrations with the analytics that were in React Native as well.

Future Innovations
Enhancing the NFL Plus Experience with More Platforms, Lower Latency, and Advanced Insights

Willem: All right, I see we're already at the last five minutes of our talk. So, we talked a lot about the past 12 to 18 months and the video experience you're currently building. Can you give us a sneak peek about what's next? What's coming with the NFL Plus app, with the NFL Plus service?

Michael: Yeah, so. You see there, and we talked about it a little bit earlier, we just launched a brand-new version of our mobile application that video is the first thing that the user sees at any point in time. And this is what a fan will see when they come back in during the regular season, so obviously always excited for kickoff to happen, but they'll get in here and they'll be able to see all those games quickly get into them live. On our, across our CTV applications, I mentioned before, just in the last little bit here, we've been able to expand over onto LG and Vizio, and we look to continue some of that expansion both to other web-based platforms as well as native platforms that are on the horizon here. On our website, we're looking to continuously better integrate NFL Plus into that experience and look forward to having, hopefully, sometime around kickoff, no promises, have some more things to share there. We definitely want to improve the latency. That's a hot topic that so many people are talking about here. I remember two years ago; I was watching with my neighbor across the street when the Vikings came back to beat the Falcons and he was using the old service that allowed you to watch out of market games. And I was yelling. celebrating with him, but he hadn't quite seen it yet. So, he was like another 45 seconds behind. So, we know how important making sure that the end of the game or just big moments, we don't want those to be ruined. So, we're really going to focus down on the latency improvements here in the next little bit.

And then we talked about how we have been focusing on the types of analytics events we're sending. And so, we want to continue refining those and making sure that is as holistic as it can be across both experience, video playback, ads and application as well.

And then we also are looking for React Native, one of the pieces there that, and if you're familiar with the, there's a bridge that I talked about a little bit before, and so there's this new concept within React Native called the new architecture, which kind of removes that last little bit there. And so, hoping to get performance improvements across our applications by taking advantage of that new part of the core framework as well.

So, yeah, overall excited to get back to season, always ready for kickoff. Plenty to do before then but keep putting video front and center across that experience and give the fans what they want.

Willem: That's great to hear. More platforms, lower latency, better insights, better performance.

Closing Remarks
Looking Ahead to the Season and Beyond with NFL's Michael Blanchard

Willem: That's it. That's what we are trying to bring as a partner to the NFL as well. We're almost out of time. So, thank you for talking all about that. Maybe one more final question, Michael. Who's your team and what are the chances that they will win the Super Bowl this year?

Michael: Well, the official line is that every team has a chance every year to win the Super Bowl. And I just hope it's a good one. I know that one of the other sports has that all-seeing Corgi who determines who's going to win the finals, but no, I don't have a favorite team per se, but I'm just excited for us to get back watching the games and streaming them to all our fans.

Willem: Awesome. And before the season, you've been looking forward to the draft already next week, which will be exciting. Thank you so much, Michael, for today. Thank you for the audience for listening. And if you have any questions, you can find us outside. Thank you.

Back to top

About The NFL

The NFL (National Football League) is America's premier professional football league, featuring the country's top teams competing for the Super Bowl championship each year. Known for its intense gameplay, passionate fan base, and rich history, the NFL showcases the best of American football talent, attracting millions of viewers nationwide.

Learn more at:


america football

Relevant resources:

Automated testing webinar

Webinar: How to Simplify Your OTT App Testing Cross-Platform

Let's talk about your use case!

Explore how THEOplayer can enhance user engagement, increase revenue, and streamline video playback across multiple platforms.