Every few months, there’s a big event streamed live online — an awards show, the premiere of a big TV show, or an athletic event — that serves as a test case as to whether streaming video is a viable replacement for traditional cable or satellite TV.
But time and time again, we’re reminded that for many people, it’s not. For them, the reliability, ease, and vast array of channels of a traditional cable or satellite subscription trumps the low cost and convenience of streaming something live online.
It happened again on Sunday morning during the Jacksonville Jaguars and Buffalo Bills game played in London.
Yahoo outbid Google, Twitter, and Amazon, according to Bloomberg, paying the NFL $US17 million for the rights to stream the game online and through its apps. Yahoo’s stream, once again, showed us that although streaming has improved markedly in recent years, it’s not yet on par with old fashioned TV in terms of reliability.
According to Yahoo, the game attracted 15.2 million unique viewers. I was one of those viewers, and I actually had a flawless viewing experience.
I downloaded the Yahoo app on my Roku 3 just for the purpose of streaming the game. I started watching about a half hour after the game started (many of the issues were early in the game) and the picture was crisp. There was absolutely no buffering, and I had no issues for the roughly 45 minutes that I tuned in. It was just like watching the game on cable or satellite, advertisements and all.
But many others didn’t.
My colleague Cork Gaines, the sports editor at Business Insider, detailed some of the issues he had, writing that the stream was “freezing and jumping… every few plays.”
“As somebody who consumes a lot of sports and often streams several games at once, this was one of the worst live streams I have seen in a long time,” Gaines wrote.
Others reported similar glitches on Twitter:
Streaming a pre-recorded show, as Netflix and Hulu do, is one thing. Streaming live events, like the Jaguars-Bills game, is something else entirely.
“Streaming TV is like television in 1951,” Phillip Swan, the president of the TV news site TVpredictions.com, told Tech Insider earlier this year, in reference to live streaming. “It’s exciting. It’s eye-opening. It makes you wonder what’s next. But it’s also very frustrating.”
One of the reasons streaming is so difficult is that there are so many variables that have to be taken into account — the type of devices people are watching on, various — and fluctuating — internet speeds, and different modems and routers, to name a few.
“With streaming, there is no guarantee what the experience will be,” Dan Rayburn, an analyst at Frost & Sullivan and the executive vice president of the industry site StreamingMedia.com, wrote in a blog post about streaming video nearly three years ago. “There are a lot of moving pieces in the entire video ecosystem as opposed to cable TV which has very few.”
Rayburn doesn’t believe that streaming will ever replace cable. But that hasn’t stopped some of the biggest tech companies in the world from working on it.
Apple is rumoured to be working on its own internet-delivered TV service, as are cable stalwarts Time Warner Cable and Comcast. Amazon may also be considering launching a subscription TV service of its own.
Perhaps the iPhone company from Cupertino or the largest online retailer in the world has what it takes to build a streaming service that will replace cable. We’ll have to wait and see.
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