Here's Who You Can Blame For The Crashing, Lagging Live Streams Of The Olympics

screenshotActual screengrab from our computer when we tried to watch a Michael Phelps race

Photo: Screenshot

In theory, NBC’s coverage of the Olympics has been perfect.It gives users full online access to a live stream of just about every single major event in the games. It backs that up with live programming through the day on half a dozen TV channels. Then at night, NBC delivers a best-of, tape delayed package of all the major events for people who couldn’t catch the live streams during the day.

The only thing holding back NBC’s coverage from attaining actual perfection is the disappointing live streaming. The streams have been lagging and crashing with regularity for users of both the desktop and mobile apps.

Who is to blame for the terrible streaming performance? Google, who delivers the stream? Or NBC, whose website is where we watch?

We reached out to both companies to figure out who was letting America down.

Not surprisingly, neither company was willing to point fingers. But, after talking to both parties, as well as an outside judge, we think we can say that the streaming failures are NBC’s fault.

A YouTube spokesperson gave us this statement: “We’re really pleased with the live-streaming performance around the Olympics so far … The quality and consistency of the live-streaming itself is even out-performing the average on-demand video playbacks.”

When YouTube talks about the “quality and consistency” of the stream, it’s not talking about what shows up on your computer. It’s talking about what’s happening on its end. It is sending out a stream to your computer. That stream is crystal clear, as far as Google is concerned.

Once it hits your computer, then things start to get fuzzy. At that point, it’s not in Google’s hands.

That’s where NBC takes over, and thus, we believe NBC is doing something to cause streams to crash. Either it has a flawed website, or it’s struggling with too many moving parts to deliver the stream.

Dan Rayburn, an analyst who specialises in streaming media, tells us, “It’s a complex ecosystem.” With streaming, there could be as many as 10 different companies involved. For instance, there’s the company delivering analytics, there’s a company delivering meta data, the company doing the stream, the network filming, there’s an ad company, there’s the company in charge of the actual website, and so on. If anyone one of those companies fails, the whole thing could get taken down.

Because the complaints about NBC’s streams have been so diverse, it’s hard to pin it down on any one thing.

Some of the problems with the Olympics streams are on the users’ end. Some people have computers that can’t handle the stream. Some people have weak internet connections.

And in NBC’s defence, its handling a lot of concurrent streams on its site. The company announced that it did 45.2 million live streams in the first week of the Olympics. Its most popular events are getting over 1 million people on the site at once.

Still, NBC is a major media company. It should have anticipated heavy traffic for the Olympics and built a site that could handle that traffic.

Google has hosted big live streaming events like the Royal Wedding, and Cricket matches (which are quite popular outside the U.S.) Those streams weren’t plagued by the same issues. MLB hosts live streaming for baseball games, which while not nearly as popular, aren’t ruined by lags and crashes.

NBC, for its part tells us, “We’re enjoying tremendous success with our digital offerings. When live streaming 3,500 hours, it’s natural for there to be a few technical difficulties — some on our end, some when the feed leaves our control. We’re literally working around the clock to provide all users with a positive digital experience. A small number of complaints, relative to the huge number of users, is a positive sign.”

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