Technical and Business Reasons Kept Low-Latency Streaming Out Of The Super Bowl

A thread was started on LinkedIn with some suggesting that CBS should have enabled low-latency streaming for the Super Bowl and that the stream should not have had a 20-40 second delay. There are so many wrong assumptions being made by people in the industry around low-latency streaming, from both a business and technical level. For starters, what value does CBS get, from a pure ROI standpoint, by reducing the latency of the Super Bowl stream? Do they sell more ads? No. Would more people initiate the stream? No. There is ALWAYS a cost vs. quality tradeoff that takes place with any streaming media service.

Netflix could make the quality of their videos better tomorrow by encoding them at 10Mbps. Why don’t they do it? Because there is no business benefit. The idea that CBS or anyone else should enable certain technology or features, just because they can, doesn’t make good business sense. Next up is the idea that delivering low-latency streaming at scale is easy or cheap to do. It’s not. Any major CDN that delivers live events with multi-million simultaneous streams will tell you it’s not easy to do at scale and many today can’t do it for large audiences. [see: Edge Computing Helps Scale Low-Latency Live Streaming, But Challenges Remain]

Not to mention, most CDNs charge more to deliver low-latency streaming, but broadcasters don’t want to pay more for it, expect in specific use cases. In a recent survey I did of over 100 broadcast and media customers, 80% of them said they wanted ultra-low latency functionality, but were not willing to pay more for it. Many expect the functionality to be part of a standard CDN delivery service, capable of supporting millions of simultaneous viewers. So to justify the extra cost, CBS or anyone else, needs to have a business reason to enable it.

Also, when it comes to latency, there are many places it can be introduced into the workflow, not just at the encoding and distribution points. So the idea that any one vendor can offer a solution that a company just “drops in” to their workflow isn’t accurate. The bottom line is that broadcasters streaming live events to millions at the same time have to make business decisions of what the end-user experience will look like. So no one should fault CBS or anyone else for not implementing low-latency or 4K or any other feature, unless they know what the company’s workflow is, what the limitations are by vendors, what the costs are to enable it, and what KPIs are being used to judge the success of the event.