Wednesday December 6, 2023

NBA Tackles Thorny Problem of Streaming Video Latency

  • New NBA App slashes latency to 12 seconds from 30-40 seconds.
  • League developed its new global app with Microsoft.
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The shift of key sports properties to streaming platforms from TV may live or die on the issue of latency. It’s fitting that the NBA, the most technology-forward league, is trying to untie the Gordian Knot of video latency via its new global app.

Latency is the delay between the action being captured on the court, transmitted to the production truck, and ultimately delivered on-screen to viewers.

Traditional broadcast and cable TV networks have a “low” video latency of only a few seconds. But latency for streaming services can be as “high” as 45 seconds. Longer if the live stream freezes or buffers. 

That lag between the broadcast and streaming feeds poses major problems for sports leagues, streaming services, and viewers — particularly “spoilers” that can ruin the game experience, when those streaming the game at home may learn the news via social media before they see it on their screens.

That’s not all. Gamblers can try to exploit the delay between real-time action and livestreams. And leagues like the NBA and Major League Baseball can never roll out innovations like in-game wagering until they bring latency down to near-broadcast TV levels.

That’s where the NBA’s new global app comes in.

The reimagined NBA App will integrate both of the league’s direct-to-consumer offerings: NBA League Pass and NBA TV. Thanks to two years of development between the NBA and Microsoft (the league’s official cloud and AI partner), these subscription offerings will offer lower latency for live video streaming than ever before.

  • The NBA’s previous latency was in the 30-40 second range. 
  • Under the new app, it’s been slashed to 12 seconds from capture in the production truck to streaming on cell phones and mobile devices. 

Ultimately, the NBA would like reach an “ultra-low” latency of a few seconds. Depending on the provider and connection of the viewers, broadcast and cable TV platforms typically have a latency of 6-8 seconds.

“We feel as though we’re very close,” said Ken DeGennaro, the NBA’s senior vice president of DTC products, Tech & Ops. “We are a new platform — and we are going to learn.” 

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The NBA’s social media platforms generated 13 billion views during the 2021-22 season, up 7% from the year before. The new app from NBA Digital will offer global fans a one-stop-shopping approach as the league speeds toward the streaming future.

  • The free app will enable fans to watch games and highlights and check scores and statistics in one place.
  • The app will feature new live programming, personalized experiences, and social content, including: live streaming access to all pregame and postgame press conferences media days; social content series devoted to lifestyle, culture, fashion, and music.
  • Original new shows such as “CrunchTime,” a weekly whiparound show hosted by Jared Greenberg; and “NBABet,” a weekly sports betting show with Tim Doyle.
  • An “NBA Vault” archive offering fans access to 500 classic games as well as replays of every NBA Finals since 2000.
  • A “For You” page where fans can enjoy vertical video experiences and real-time highlights of all games in progress.
  • NBA ID: a global membership program offering rewards from the league, its teams and promotional partners.

Despite the challenges with latency, streamers are making progress when it comes to acquiring live sports rights.

With its exclusive coverage of “Thursday Night Football,” Amazon Prime Video scored the first ever all-digital package from the NFL.

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Streaming giants Amazon and Apple are expected to bid against Disney’s ABC/ESPN and Warner Bros. Discovery’s TNT for the NBA’s U.S. media rights which come available starting in 2025.  

In the meantime, Commissioner Adam Silver’s NBA and individual clubs such as the Los Angeles Clippers are doing what they can to offer more streaming options.

“For many years, the live streaming viewer has been disadvantaged from a timing perspective,” DeGenarro said. “We’re looking to close that gap as much as we can so that all the viewing experiences are on par. And you don’t have that spoiler issue.”

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