Sep 23, 2022 - Economy

Live sports streaming frustrates fans

Illustration of a group of football referees standing around a digital streaming progress bar

Illustration: Natalie Peeples/Axios

Yankee outfielder Aaron Judge has tied Babe Ruth at 60 home runs, and is one long ball away from tying Roger Maris' American League record of 61 in a single season.

Why it matters: While he’s chasing baseball history, fans Friday night must have Apple TV+ to see it — a situation which has not only caused a bit of drama in the New York market, but also illuminates the messy realities of watching sports through streaming.

Catch up quick: Streaming services are snapping up larger pieces of the sports landscape, and increasingly larger games.

  • But as it does so, it's turned a traditional "turn on the tube and watch" experience into one that involves multiple apps, reliable internet service and a memory stable enough to keep track of which games are playing where on any given day.
  • It also presents limitations on where — and how — fans can watch and interact with games.

State of play: Most bars and restaurants don't have streaming services on their TVs, which would require upgrading their video systems.

  • When Amazon Prime won exclusive rights to stream NFL Thursday Night Football for $13 billion, it also signed a deal with DirecTV to carry it to its business customers, muting an outcry from bars around the country.
  • At home, the need to download various apps — let alone stream them through televisions — has frustrated less tech-savvy fans, and in some cases made it impossible for them to watch.

The big picture: Latency — or the delay in getting live action to screens — is one of the biggest hurdles for streaming.

  • A traditional cable broadcast will typically deliver game action to a viewer's screen in 6 to 15 seconds. Live sports streaming, by contrast, can take 45 - 60 seconds — in some cases even a couple of minutes, according to MediaKind.
  • That delay is enough for fans to hear about a big play over text or social media before seeing it on their screen.
  • It also means the same game could be streaming out-of-sync at the various TVs in the same establishment.
  • Meanwhile, streaming's delays can present problems for the growing number of fans making fast, in-game bets.

Pete's thought bubble: Apple TV+'s fortunate timing in having this game tonight is a huge win for the company — exactly the kind of moment that it needs to attract a national audience (and to drive app downloads).

  • But it also puts Apple on the national stage at a time when live sports streaming might not be quite ready.
Go deeper