If you’ve ever streamed a live sports event and simultaneously tuned into it on TV, you’ve immediately noticed the latency in the live stream. I’ve tried this a number of times and found the latency can be as much as 45-60 seconds.
For example, last week I streamed the Thursday night football game to my iPad using Amazon, while also watching on TV, and the latency was around 10-12 seconds, which was actually quite good. This may be part of a larger trend that bodes well for live streaming especially as more sporting events move online and to mobile.
To get more perspective on the issue, I recently spoke with Alexander Leschinsky, Co-Founder and Managing Director, G&L Geißendörfer & Leschinsky GmbH, which provides systems integration and managed services for public broadcasters in Germany. Alexander has deployed numerous live streaming events since 2000 and has worked extensively on the latency issue in sports streaming.
Alexander reports that not only is live streaming latency improving, there are actually now situations of “reverse latency” - where the live stream is running ahead the TV broadcast. This can be as much as 3-6 seconds and is specific to cable and DVB terrestrial delivery. Satellite delivery still remains closest to real time. Alexander said a number of factors have contributed to the improvement, including transitioning to Akamai’s Media Services Live version 4.0, and in particular, its “liveOrigin” features.
He said the solution is typically deployed for the biggest sports events when viewership is the highest. Importantly, live streaming has given German broadcasters more interactivity, with features like voting, commenting, multiple camera angles and more. Alexander sees these all as upside opportunities for broadcasters as competition increases. In addition, Alexander is working with other clients such as religious broadcasters for whom being close to real time is also essential.
But it’s for sports in particular that low-to-zero latency is highest impact. Online and mobile delivery to multiple devices is proliferating, as seen just in the past week, with NBC saying it will stream Sunday Night Football to mobile and the NFL striking a big renewal deal with Verizon, also for mobile. As leagues, TV networks and digital platforms seek to monetize their live streams, providing a superior quality experience with low latency is essential.