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Why it’s important to make the Super Bowl LVII live stream as high-quality as the event itself

Bitmovin CEO Stefan Lederer explains why delivering the Super Bowl is no mean feat for streaming technology

The Super Bowl. Since 1966 it has garnered a rapidly growing global audience and become a brand within itself known for its hard tackles and extravagant half-time shows. Last year alone, approximately 208 million viewers worldwide watched as the Los Angeles Rams took on the Cincinnati Bengals with a nail-biting finish.

Aside from how the game ended, the real question is, how was this sporting showdown delivered to millions of viewers worldwide? Among the many factors that can affect you when live streaming an event, three stand out: latency, quality, and the video player.

How buffering issues can dramatically affect latency

Buffering issues. They are the suspense killer and the bane of every sports fan’s viewing experience when in the middle of watching the game. Bitmovin’s consumer research demonstrated that almost half of Americans (47 per cent) have unsubscribed from a streaming service due to buffering issues. This shows the importance of how the streaming workflow and player feature settings can affect the viewer experience and viewing choices. Of course, the issues can be due to a lack of connectivity on the end user’s side. Still, the streaming provider can improve playback by enabling certain features, such as adaptive bitrate streaming (ABR), and increasing the player’s buffer size for downloaded segments.

Enabling ABR for your live stream will help the video player adjust to the user’s internet connection and deliver the best quality possible video. If a larger buffer is added to the player, it can cause more delay but ensure a more stable viewing experience. However, adding more delay will mean that your intended low latency is no longer that. The trade-off will be a fundamental factor for your workflow and viewer and even more significant for a global event like the Super Bowl. This is where setting a target latency may be the better fit for the live event.

Going into Low latency, its focus is to provide viewers with a broadcast-like delay you’d typically get from watching content over traditional cable networks. Low latency helps combat the ‘Noisy Neighbour Effect’, where your audience can be negatively affected when seeing notifications or hearing cheers from neighbors when something happens before they see it on their screen. 

Our recent Video Developer Report shows that LL-CMAF is solving some of the challenges around low latency. LL-CMAF is currently being utilised to achieve a latency of sub 3s and remains one of the most popular live streaming formats tech teams are adopting across our two most recent reports. 

However, low latency solutions rarely permit viewers to buffer enough content or have enough ‘lead time,’ meaning playback interruptions are highly likely when streaming conditions are poor. This then leads to slow video starts, rebuffering, and decreased quality. As a result, the experience can quickly turn from thrilling non-stop action to a stop-start mess. 

Target latency, however, has a minimal downside to the viewer experience. This is because you can set the delay for every viewer, ensuring your audience will all be seeing the content simultaneously and have a better experience due to increased stream stability and control during playback. The only potential drawback to setting a target latency is if viewers have a “noisy neighbor” streaming the same content on a different service that delivers at low latency.

Quality on and off the field

While buffering issues may be the bane of the live event, the modern viewer expects the video quality to equal that of being there in person. Our research found that over a quarter of Americans (27 per cent) would drop a streaming service due to poor video quality, highlighting the importance of offering high video quality to viewers. Watching the Super Bowl in ultra-high definition (UHD) is just as integral to the viewing experience as low latency. 

To provide this, a modern live event encoder is essential to delivering the highest quality content and helping maintain stream security, stability, and uptime through multiple inputs. To help make it easier for live streaming tech teams to customize and control this, a robust and expansive API is a must, and additional tools like a friendly user interface help get the job done. This will ensure the streaming provider can meet every need and use case their live streaming team has, along with any required integrations like DRM for secure delivery. 

Additionally, to monitor the viewer quality being delivered, analytics are a necessity as they will enable their teams to pinpoint and correct any errors in real-time without disrupting the stream and diminishing video quality. Combining the highest quality with optimal latency that requires little to no buffering wherever the viewer may be is what the Super Bowl deserves.

A big brand needs a consistent Player

The Super Bowl has become a global event, with viewers worldwide staying up till the early morning hours to watch it. However, as this event is known for extravagance, quality, and showmanship, any streaming provider must consistently reflect these values across every device and platform. 

Consumers are increasingly streaming content on many devices and prioritizing the ability to do so when choosing their streaming services. In fact, one in four (25 per cent) Americans valued the ability to use a streaming service across all devices as one of the top three reasons to keep a subscription. To keep viewers from turning off completely, the streaming providers must ensure they can deliver a high-quality stream and a consistent player experience across all devices. 

Moreover, ensuring the player is consistent across devices and provides unique playback features, such as a customisable user interface, will uphold the image of what the Super Bowl portrays. A clunky and unreliable player would be harmful to any streaming provider looking to provide their users with this kind of viewing experience.

Overall, it’s clear that delivering a high-quality live stream to millions of eager viewers is no mean feat and requires significant decisions to be made by the streaming provider. But, without a doubt, this year’s Super Bowl will be an event for the ages, and the live stream is set to equal the quality viewers will see on the field.