Super Bowl Stream Improves Its Hangtime

Delays lingered, but latency improved markedly for year’s biggest digital-video event
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While a low-scoring game left many Super Bowl LIII fans with a big yawn, video streaming technology at least reached a partial victory, with higher scores compared to last year.

Traditionally, latency — the time it takes the action on the field to reach eyeballs in a home — has been one of the biggest technological hurdles for video streaming operators to solve.

It was still a problem during this year’s game. According to streaming technology company Phenix, latency among streams of the big game ranged from 28.2 seconds for the CBS Sports app all the way to 46.7 seconds for the Yahoo Sports app.

That’s at least better than last year, when Phenix tracked delays ranging from 20 seconds all the way to roughly five minutes.

While the overall ratings performance for Super Bowl LIII was down 2.7% to 100.7 million viewers, more people streamed the game than ever. The average streaming audience per minute was 2.6 million viewers, up 31% over the 2018 Super Bowl, according to Nielsen. The number of devices used to stream the big game was up 20% to 7.5 million. And the total amount of streamed live game action was up 19%, to 560 million total minutes.

It’s not all about latency. While Phenix, which said it had an on-site tester at Atlanta’s Mercedes- Benz Stadium, measured CBS Sports as best in class for latency, there were numerous reports on Twitter of the app crashing in the last five minutes of the game.

With bigger audiences come bigger stakes for the performance of video technology.

“It goes beyond just an annoyance and causes a major domino effect, damaging the reputation of the streaming platforms to impacting revenues when people don’t want to pay for underperforming subscriptions to brands choosing to pull away and advertise on functional platforms that have the most eyeballs,” Phenix chief marketing officer Jed Corenthal said.

Of course, technology marketers also see streaming’s biggest event as an opportunity. Verizon, perhaps 5G’s most vociferous proponent, used Super Bowl XLII in 2018 to kick off its big marketing push, streaming the game in virtual reality over a 5G network.

Meanwhile, broadcaster proponents of ATSC 3.0 often make the Super Bowl the lynchpin of any discussion touting the benefits of their “one-to-many” technology.

“When all of us want to watch the same program at the same time, [with streaming] you’re delivering on a multiplicative basis a file which may be many gigabytes in size,” Sinclair Broadcast Group technology chief Mark Aitkin told Multichannel News at last month’s CES. “In unicast, I have to deliver, for example, a 1 Gigabyte file to everybody. Multiply that by thousands. With broadcast, I deliver just one 1 Gb file, and everybody’s got it. … It’s very simple. Our job is to get in front of the largest population as possible.”

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