Sportsnet streams will target “three seconds of latency, well below broadcast”

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One of the biggest issues with streaming services for sports broadcasts is the lag time between when things happen on the pitch and when viewers see them. This exists even for conventional cable or satellite TV shows, with most signals reaching the TV six to seven seconds after they originate, meaning you are seeing a room that is not just as it is in the room. the stadium but shortly after. However, six seconds is rarely enough for sports spoilers (from tweets, push notifications, or whatever).

The lag is much larger when it comes to streaming signals (provided over the Internet). A May article by Brian Ring on FierceVideo projects the delay there as “thirty, forty-five, or even up to sixty seconds behind real time.” “That’s enough lag to cause a lot of spoiler issues, whether it’s app notifications, tweets, or even just a neighbor with the conventional TV celebrating a room you haven’t yet.” view. According to an article published Thursday by Anthony Crupi of Sportico, however, Canadian Rogers Sportsnet (which launched the full streaming service Sportsnet Now in March 2016; unlike US sports streaming options so far, this gives you all about their channels) and their technology partner Firstlight Media claim to have cracked the streaming code and will be able to provide twice the latency level of conventional broadcasts.

Sportsnet of Canada will begin redesigning its SN NOW streaming service this fall, launching a series of tweaks designed to improve the quality and reliability of its video offerings while providing a more personalized viewing experience.

… One of the major enhancements to SN NOW is an architectural breakthrough that will allow packet transfer rates to leap forward. Without getting lost in the weeds of technical specifications, the new scheme involves what’s known as “chunked transfer encoding,” which reduces latency by transmitting video through a series of infinitely small data packets.

According to Juan Martin, chief technology officer and co-founder of Sportsnet’s technology partner Firstlight Media, the burst will help SN NOW “achieve three seconds of latency, well below broadcast.” Martin said that’s about half the latency of a standard linear TV production, a reduction in latency that will not only allow for the best viewing experience – fans will no longer have to deal with the two furies of buffering and rasterization – but should prove to be a boon for in-game betting.

On the one hand, it seems hard to believe that there is a solution in the near future that would reduce the huge delays on streaming services not only at the level of conventional broadcasts, and not only at that level, but by half of that. this level. Even if the current broadcast lag were set at 30 seconds (the lowest of Ring’s estimates), a reduction to three seconds would be a 90% decrease. We rarely see 90% drops all at once, especially for a problem that countless people have been trying to solve for some time. But if they can actually achieve it, it’s amazing, and it could lead to a revolutionary improvement in sports streaming.

However, it should be mentioned that there are some important factors to consider when it comes to internet data transmission speeds in particular. The figure of six to seven seconds for conventional cable or satellite is relatively standard among providers and homes because end-user connections are similar (cables to a house or a satellite dish on that house, to a box control, to a television). But this is not the case for TVs connected to the Internet. There, there are questions of whether the TV is wired to the internet from the house or accesses it via Wi-Fi (slower), what is this internet connection, what are its speeds at the time in question (this often changes a every day or even at different times during the same day, with variables such as the number of other devices on the home network and the number of users accessing the same Internet provider), and more.

As anyone who has tried speed test websites (speedtest.net is a free site) will know, those numbers change a lot and they are often not close to what your ISP quotes for your plan. The numbers quoted are often the best scenarios; there’s a reason these plans tend to be marketed as “up to speed x”, not “speed x”. None of this is Rogers’ fault (unless they are also the ISP of the user in question), but it does mean that even a significant improvement in broadcast latency for Sportsnet Now may not achieve. the times shown for all final viewers.

Another factor to consider is the video quality. Higher video quality usually means more data, and more data usually means less speed. So there is a compromise there. Compression algorithms that allow files to be passed down at a smaller size and then reassembled into larger files help with this, which is why it is important to find better compression approaches (Silicon Valley famously used the idea ‘in the middle’ as a fictional plot device / dick joke, but people have actually used some of what is described there), but there is always a balance to be struck between the quality and speed. And especially for a streaming TV service, the video needs to be good enough to look decent on a big screen TV, but also fast enough (sports-wise) that the information isn’t out of date. And, as the Crupi and Ring articles note, this will become more and more important as in-game bets increase.

In any case, if Firstlight and Sportsnet Now can actually reduce the latency of sports streaming videos to three seconds, or even six or seven seconds seen on other shows, it could be a huge step forward to further speed up the cut of the game. cord. And it’s worth noting that it’s not as bad for Rogers as it could be for, say, ESPN. Rogers is in an interesting position considering all the different areas in which they touch the sports market; they operate TV channels (and other radio and digital media), but are also a cable and internet service provider (not to mention owned by their team), which is part of the reason why they (and rival Bell, which is also in all of those categories) switched to full OTT service five years ago (four years ago, in the case of Bell) while US sports networks still do not have made that jump. And a direct-to-consumer offering like Sportsnet Now is good enough for Rogers in terms of margin, so making it better looks appealing.

When it comes to the importance of streaming latency, that’s not a big deal for all fans. The Ring article cites a survey of “live sports and news fans” which found that only 26.8% were aware and annoyed by streaming latency compared to conventional broadcasts. But it certainly matters to a significant portion of fans, and it certainly matters to young people (also more likely to see spoilers on Twitter or app notifications), and bettors in particular. If Firstlight and Sportsnet Now can find a way to eliminate this latency (compared to conventional broadcasts), that takes away one of the big drawbacks of streaming TV. And it seems likely that if this approach actually works and produces those kinds of low latency numbers without huge drops in quality, we’ll likely see plenty of other companies down the road.

[Sportico, FierceVideo; photo from Sportsnet Now]


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