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Four reasons why low latency streaming matters

Sports spoilers are the most often cited problem caused by streaming video delays. But hearing about a touchdown before you see it is not the most important reason low latency streaming matters. Here are three more important reasons.

Live streaming is still plagued with the problem of long delays behind the actual live event. For example, I measured stream delays of 18 seconds behind a broadcast television signal during Super Bowl LV.

Reason #1: Betting
In 2018, the Supreme Court effectively decided the States should regulate betting. Since then, there has been a rush to legalize betting. Today, 19 states have legalized gambling, and bills are pending in five more. Many more States are liable to legalize it in the coming years as they look for ways to boost flagging state coffers with gambling taxes.

Live sports are a key focus of betting activity, and since the Supreme Court’s decision, it has exploded. In Q4 2019, $370 million was spent on placing sports bets, almost five times as much as in Q4 2017. It took a big hit in the first half of 2020 due to the COVID-19 sports shutdown. But it shows every sign of returning to aggressive growth now sports are back.

Long delays in live sports streaming are unacceptable when betting is involved. There are hard cut-off times to place a bet before a game, and delays put streamers at a disadvantage. As well, an 18-second delay in an NFL game feed would prohibit the watcher from participating in new gambling games, like call the play. In other words, low latency is a requirement for live sports betting.

Reason #2: Interactivity
Simply put, latency is an interactivity killer. Waiting 18 seconds for a friend to reply to an instant message about a great play in a game is guaranteed to cool the excitement. Similarly, playing along in an interactive league with your favorite TV game show is no fun if streamers always have a big time-delay disadvantage.

Buying can be problematic with video latency. For example, Home Shopping Network gives a countdown on availability or when they are closing orders on an item. If streamers are tens of seconds behind live, they can completely miss the window to buy.

Reason #3: Second-screening
9-in-10 Americans use a second screen while they are watching TV. While researching what they are watching is the top second-screen activity, 41% are messaging their friends and family about what they are watching. If everyone is watching and chatting about a game or The Bachelor or The Great British Baking Show as it is broadcast, streamers with long delays will feel very out of sync with everyone else.

Providers have come up with watch party features that address this problem. For example, Verizon Media launched a live sports watch party feature last year that allows people to video chat while watching a live game. However, an implicit part of the solution is low latency streaming.

Reason #4: Spoilers
Last and perhaps least, there is the “spoiler” problem. There is no question that it is annoying to receive a text from a friend about a big play that you have not seen yet. However, consumers do not feel the annoyance of latency is as important as other qualities. For example, 64% think live sports’ picture quality is extremely important, and only 42% say the same about latency. However, were you to ask someone placing a bet using a streaming feed that is 20 seconds behind live, I suspect the answer would be quite different. Nscreenmedia

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