Twitter’s NFL experience is good – the video quality is crisp, it doesn’t require authentication, and the experience in the OTT app is good. It’s a quality blending of the Twitter experience and NFL games. Over 2 million people streamed the first game of the season with an average session of 22 minutes per user, which is a smaller audience than the same game had on CBS but comparable view time. All of this is good. What’s not so good is the lag. This is fixable, but for something like football, it’s noticeable. Especially when it’s coming in at 30 to 45 seconds.
Al Pacino once mused that football is a “game of inches.” It’s also a game of seconds – a punt return and three drives can occur in a 45 second window for a hurry up offense. If a stream is lagging, especially for a service that is supplementing that stream with real-time tweets that are sometimes faster than the game itself (with sports reporters tweets often calling major plays before the broadcast shows them), this bug has the potential to be crippling. It’s a fixable problem that can be engineered into a solution, but it is an issue that was made even more noticeable for football than something like tennis or a political convention.
Lag has always been one an unavoidable part of the video industry. As explained in a helpful describer in Boxcast, the lag comes from a series of technical encoding, decoding, transcoding, transmitting, and display exercises that all occur at once. “A streaming solution that uses HTTP-based adaptive bitrate mechanisms will have a slightly higher latency range: about 3.2–56 seconds. Realistically, it will typically be in the 15–45 second range. Since this approach uses HTTP-based mechanisms that can leverage off-the-shelf CDNs, it can theoretically support a very large number of simultaneous viewers without difficulty.” In short, the lag is something technology’s been working on for some time, and if anyone has it in their interest to fix it, it’s the NFL and their new streaming partner Twitter.
Twitter’s NFL experience is good and they deserve credit for putting together something that could help redefine what the company is capable of. But the lag is merciless. For Twitter to make sure that its video is as real time as its commentary, something needs to be done.