As thousands of football fans fill stadiums across America to watch the first Sunday of NFL action, millions more will be watching at home and in bars – up to a minute later .
For nearly three decades, the most dedicated football fans have subscribed to the “Sunday Ticket” satellite package to watch games not broadcast on traditional television via national broadcasts or local affiliate channels.
But since the NFL sold the rights to the package to YouTube for $2 billion a year late last year, these fanatics will now have to distribute games out of market, which can cause delays of several seconds.
This is because images and sounds transmitted digitally generally take longer to reach computer screens than those transmitted almost instantly by cable or satellite.
Jed Corenthal, chief marketing officer of Chicago-based streaming technology company Phenix, predicts that some streaming customers could experience delays of up to a minute.
“I expect people to have problems,” he said. “There are going to be people unhappy because of the latency. I am unfortunately confident in this statement.
For example, fans watching the Super Bowl earlier this year on one of the six major digital providers saw the big games between 23 seconds and 76 seconds later than spectators in the stands, according to an annual lag study by Phenix between real time and real time. NFL title game action vs. streaming.
In a press release, Google, the parent company of YouTube, says it is confident in its infrastructure for Sunday and urged its viewers to tune in to a feature, “Stats for Nerds,” which tracks raw latency and bandwidth data.
“Overall, YouTube TV relies on the infrastructure that powers YouTube and reliably delivers billions of plays every day,” the company said. “The YouTube TV team is working to create a high-quality Sunday Ticket experience.”
A spokesperson, however, declined to discuss potential latency issues for “Sunday Ticket.”
Experts told NBC News that the delay “Sunday Ticket” subscribers will face on Sunday cannot be avoided and is simply the reality of current technology, engineers said.
Images and sounds are broken into chunks and sent to a content delivery network (CDN) which reassembles these packages for video delivered to streaming viewers. These extra steps inevitably cause delays compared to cable or satellite.
“Think of cable as delivering all the parts in one truck, whereas streaming has to send different parts via different delivery trucks,” said Biao Chen, a professor of electrical engineering and computer science at Syracuse University .
Chip Gubera, who teaches media technology and design at the University of Missouri’s College of Engineering, compared streaming to a game of football in which the ball is passed sideways or backwards before moving forward.
“It’s more players who have to touch the ball,” Gubera said.
Latency issues wouldn’t be a concern if fans, watching traditional or streaming TV, were all in on the action and reacting with almost the same delay.
But in the modern age of two screens, almost all live human activity involves someone tweeting or texting about an event in real time.
And for soccer fans watching Sunday’s action on streaming services — but also glued to constant chatter on social media — delays of a few seconds can be significant.
“I think the average fan will understand this when I tweet at you and tell you about a touchdown you haven’t seen yet,” Corenthal said. “More and more people are complaining and understanding what all these delays mean. »
Paul Verna, a media analyst at Insider Intelligence, remembers cutting the cord in 2018 and watching that year’s New Year’s Eve ball on his streaming device. He knew there would be a delay, but seeing 2019 arrive late still surprised him.
“I’m watching the ball drop on (streaming) TV and I’m looking at my watch and it’s already midnight, way past midnight, and the ball hasn’t dropped yet,” Verna said. “I’m like, ‘Wow, people have been ringing in the new year for 45 seconds now.'”
He expects a number of NFL fans to feel on Sunday what he felt in the first moments of Jan. 1, 2019.
“I think some people will be confused,” Verna said. “Some people will experience this for the very first time and others will be like me, who already knew this would happen, but will experience it in a way that is new to them and it will scare them.”
Mizzou’s Gubera, however, said he was confident YouTube would deliver a product not so late on Sunday.
“They have it. They have the infrastructure,” he said. “With what they have right now, at full capacity, I think they will do well.”
The professor declined to guess how late YouTube would be on the action on Sunday — but it better not be much more than 10 seconds slower than cable.
“How long does it take to write and send a Tweet?” » he asked rhetorically. “Five seconds, 10 seconds? That’s when it becomes a problem, when I get the information from the second screen before I can look at it with my own eyes, that’s when it becomes a problem .”