Streaming the Super Bowl? Don’t look at Twitter.

If you’re one of the growing numbers of viewers who will stream this year’s Super Bowl LIV, beware of spoilers.

While the idea of “spoilers” in live sports might seem counter-intuitive, it’s a growing reality in the streaming era. Why? Because streaming services often serve up live content on a delay of up to a minute or more. 

CNET flagged a study from Phenix, a company focused on reducing streaming delays and providing real-time video support, that showed streams of last year’s Super Bowl saw delays of between 28 and 47 seconds depending on which service you were using. 

Streaming the Super Bowl? Don't look at Twitter.

Image: Phenix

What’s more, there was a range of up to 100 seconds for viewers watching the game on the same platform. 

Streaming the Super Bowl? Don't look at Twitter.

Image: Phenix

This isn’t new, either. I watched Super Bowl LII between the Philadelphia Eagles and New England Patriots via a friend’s Hulu live TV stream and there was a good minute-plus of time between my seeing Twitter light up over Tom Brady’s late-game fumble and then seeing it with my own eyes on television. 

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That fumble essentially spoiled what seemed like the inevitable Brady-led comeback and directly led to the Eagles’ victory. And I had it spoiled for me because of streaming delays.

The issues is as old as livestreaming itself. I watch all my live sports via streaming services, be it from a provider (in my case, AT&T TV), a network app (Watch ESPN, Fox Sports Go), or a league-based app (MLB.TV). And in every case, these streams are always behind other broadcasts.

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It all has to do with what’s called “latency,” or the delay between a camera capturing something and that something being streamed “live” to a device. The stream of whatever event you’re watching is delivered to your streaming device in small pieces, often just a few seconds of action at a time. To ensure that you get a smooth, uninterrupted viewing experience, the device has to buffer, or collect enough of those pieces before it gives you the feed. 

Complicating matters is the fact that these streams are often high-definition (Fox is even broadcasting this year’s Super Bowl in 4K) which means those streaming chunks are pretty damn big. Throw in other mitigating factors, like your internet speed and how quickly the app or service you use can spit out the stream, and, boom, you’re behind the non-streaming signal by at least 30 seconds. 

It’s worth pointing out that there’s still a delay for over-the-air and cable viewers, too. First, It takes time for the signal to physically travel from the source (the stadium) to your antenna or cable box. 

Then there’s the standard five-second delay that stations have used for live broadcasts for years to censor profanity or give them time to cut the feed to avoid violence or something else they don’t want broadcast, like, heaven forbid, a wardrobe malfunction. Still, those delays aren’t nearly as long as the streaming delay. 

Companies like Phenix are working to improve tech and shorten those latency delays as much as possible. But there will likely always be some sort of latency lag for streamers.

So, on Sunday, maybe just hold off on peeking at Twitter until you see things unfold on your screen. After all, the internet will still probably ignore your hot take and you can remain completely unspoiled. 

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