Technology Column

Live streamed sports is future, not present innovation

/ The Daily Orange

Live streaming, by definition, should be experienced in real time, online. But the delays that come with live streaming technology defeat the original purpose of it. This was seen on Monday night’s presidential debate as well as when Twitter debuted its exciting new live streaming video platform with NFL football game between the New York Jets and Buffalo Bills earlier this month.

The game marked the first officially live streamed major sporting event hosted on the site and the start of a new era of sports consumption. From a technological standpoint, traditional broadcast television is on the way out. But Twitter has spent the last several years seemingly planning to be its replacement. The social platform wants to frame itself as the proper successor to broadcast television, but these technological hurdles are preventing it from achieving that title.

Twitter has made headline-worthy recent moves as minor as recategorizing itself as a “news” app on the iOS App Store and as large as inking deals with  all of the “Big Four” American sports leagues (NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL) for streaming rights to games.

Streaming sports has been a common practice since ESPN launched the WatchESPN platform in 2010, which allows cable customers to watch any event broadcast on the network live on both the website and mobile app. Since then, NBCSports and Fox Sports GO, along with cutting-edge streaming platforms like PlayStation Vue, emerged to provide access to sports no matter where you are. Unlike these other sites, Twitter has more going for it than simply streaming video, with an entire social community already built around it.

In a recent interview with Fast Company, Twitter’s founder and CEO Jack Dorsey said Twitter is “not a social network as people think about it,” framing it as the broadcast network that it’s increasingly beginning to look like.

Dorsey categorized Twitter as a news network that “aggregates” every news source into a single site, exemplified by its App Store reclassification. To some extent that’s true, as many active users of the site rely on it as their exclusive source of news and information. As I veered away from spending time on Facebook this summer, I found myself becoming more dependent on Twitter for my news because it makes it so easy.

The nature of Twitter is immediacy, and that’s also what makes it so compelling as a social platform. So it’s no surprise that they’re also looking to take on live streaming beyond its in-house streaming platform Periscope as a one-stop resource for information.

But immediacy has become the biggest issue with live streaming in general — it’s not immediate. Like other live streaming platforms, Thursday Night games on Twitter have lagged up to 30 seconds behind the live broadcast on TV. Live streaming always seems to lag behind live television for a variety of reasons, from the way a platform is built to the reliability of the internet connection.

Anyone that’s tried keeping up with a Syracuse basketball game over different mediums knows this is the case. Some of your friends could be at the game in the Carrier Dome, others could be in an apartment living room watching live on ESPNU, and you could be stuck in the library catching up over WatchESPN. You’ll inevitably be the one that gets the buzzer beater spoiled by an overexcited friend.

The 30-second delay on the Jets-Bills game was no different. While the stream lagged behind the live broadcast, people who watched the game on TV were tweeting about that last touchdown pass by Ryan Fitzpatrick before you could even see it on Twitter.

Twitter was a platform built around experiencing events at the same time as the entire world. But when Twitter presents itself as the best source of information on a topic and it’s the one lagging behind everyone else, what’s the point of using it anymore?

As fewer people watch and subscribe to cable, streaming video is undoubtedly the future of TV, and seeing how quickly it’s grown in recent years has been exciting to watch. Twitter getting the rights to sports broadcasts is important for pushing that trend forward: it establishes the platform as a new place for cable-cutters to watch sports in a time where it’s difficult for many to do so.

One of the best parts of watching sports and communicating over social media is getting to experience exciting things with other people. And it’s clear that internet users await the day when we’ll be able to watch every major sporting event, delay-free, over our web browsers and mobile apps. But sports are no fun when nobody’s watching at the same time — so until this technological flaw is addressed, nobody should rush to cancel that cable package.
Brett Weiser-Schlesinger is junior newspaper and online journalism major. His column appears weekly. He can be reached at bweisers@syr.edu.

 

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