Streaming services are spoiling the Super Bowl

Tens of millions of people gathered together to watch the Super Bowl last night — but they weren’t all watching it at exactly the same time. Cable streams of the game delivered footage that was around 50 seconds behind what was happening on the field, and the figure for online streaming services was even worse. Some viewers were watching a stream that was a minute-and-a-half behind the real world, leaving plenty of time for social media posts and push notifications to spoil what was about to happen in the game.

The figures, from streaming tech company Phenix, show that streaming still has a ways to go to catch up with other — and, often, older — methods of watching TV. Hulu, NFL Plus, and DirecTV Stream were on average more than a minute behind the action on the field. Fubo TV was the worst, with an average delay of almost 87 seconds and some users seeing a delay of up to two minutes.

Most streaming services were at least a minute behind the game.
Image: Phenix

There’s always going to be some delay between a real-time event and the footage appearing on a TV set across the country. But Phenix’s data shows that there’s very much room for improvement. Verizon FiOS had a delay of just 29 seconds. And the best performance of all came from the oldest method out there: over-the-air broadcasts. People getting the game from a broadcast signal experienced the briefest delay, seeing what was happening just 22 seconds after it occurred on the field.

These delays may sound brief, but they make a big difference in the way people experience live events today. It may take a minute for video to get from the field to your TV, but a social media post about a touchdown or interception can make it to your phone much quicker. The delay doesn’t matter if you’re just watching with friends, but nowadays, just about every viewer has access to faster sources of information in their pocket — the delay both puts them behind the online conversation and reveals what’s coming next.

“Live sporting events are riddled with spoilers.”

“The industry has yet to catch up with consumer demand to provide a real-time experience,” Phenix CEO Roy Reichbach said in an emailed statement. “For today’s consumers, live sporting events are riddled with spoilers.”

There were some standout performers in streaming this year. Paramount Plus averaged a delay of around 43 seconds, which made it faster than the typical cable connection. And YouTube TV was only around five seconds slower than cable. The connection speed varied across formats, too, so in some cases cable was worse than even the slower streams. Phenix found that some cable connections were close to 80 seconds behind the game.

Instead of buying a bigger TV for the game, it sounds like next year we should all invest in a pair of antennas.

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