Playout & Transmission Global Viewpoint – November 2020

The Viewers Case For Fixed Latency

Real-time live sporting events stretch broadcast technical systems to their limits. Our constant fight with latency further amplifies our challenges along with increased bandwidth and maintaining accurate timing. As well as these usual culprits, the unexpected implications of social media are heavily influencing how we address latency.

Social engagement is one of the key gains for viewers watching a live sports event. It seems like everybody has an opinion on the official’s decisions, the managers strategies, and the players choices, and are more than happy to express their views and share it with those in their immediate group.

The rapid adoption of social media has further bolstered the communal context of live event viewing and engagement. A multitude of apps exist that not only allow audiences to stay engaged with the group watching the game, but also allow them to keep across the progress and status of other events that they may not be directly watching but want to keep up to date with.

Social engagement is nothing new for broadcasters and they’ve been aware of its power for as long as we’ve had television. In the early day’s magazines would keep us abreast of the gossip in the latest sit-com and explain the player line-ups of the weekend’s sports events. But the proliferation of real-time social media channels such Twitter and Facebook have not only taken interaction to new levels but has had a massive impact on broadcast television.

The “second screen” as social media engagement is often referred to has been the subject of much analysis. In 2015 a group of researchers looked at how social media was used during the 2014 Sochi Olympic games and found that not only did viewers actively engage in emotional sharing of the games with their groups, but that active participation from the broadcasters led to greater viewer loyalty for their channel.

The widespread international adoption of the internet has facilitated the acceptance of social media as a method of emotional attachment with other viewers when watching live broadcast events in real-time.

I believe, the critical point with social media engagement within the context of communal viewing is the immediacy with which a viewer can share their views with their peers at the instant a notable event within the game occurs.

With this in mind, imagine if a group of viewers were watching a live event in separate locations but all engaged within a live social internet channel exchanging opinion as the game progressed. But then, one area of the internet suffered an issue leading to a noticeable delay in the reception of their game. The social interaction would still be continuing on the second screen potentially leading to major spoilers, even resulting in large numbers of viewers leaving the broadcast channel.

This example is analogous to one group of viewers watching a live sports event in their back yard from a traditional transmitter feed and another group in an adjacent yard watching on OTT. The cheers from the terrestrial transmitter feed could be thirty seconds ahead thus spoiling the game for those watching on OTT. The concept of social media communal engagement takes this analogy and amplifies it beyond recognition.

I believe the key is not to constantly aim for unattainable, unrealistic, and unspecified levels of “low latency” but to aspire for latency that is fixed and achievable across many platforms.

Although the internet may be the wild west of television delivery, broadcasters have a well proven track record of being able to generate interoperable standards to facilitate a greater quality of experience for our viewers. With a bit of thought, we should be able to achieve the same for latency in OTT and studio IP.