Streaming services scoring own goal with latency issues

It’s the 91st minute in the England versus Tunisia match and England win a corner. Kieran Trippier places the ball down gently, takes a few steps backwards and inhales deeply, sweat dripping down his face. You’re sat on the edge of your seat in your flat, iPad grasped tightly, watching the drama unfold. Eyes back on the screen to see the corner fly into the penalty area and just as Harry Maguire rises to flick the ball-on towards Harry Kane, you hear cheering coming from your neighbour’s house. “Get in, Kane! Come on England! IT’S COMING HOME!” Confused, you look back at your screen to see Kane jumping into the sky to head the ball into the goal. Seems like you’re behind on the action!

25 September 2018

The World Cup 2018 was plagued with reports of ‘streaming lag’, as online viewers found themselves a few minutes behind people watching through their TVs. This unfortunately meant that those watching on tablets or smartphones via BBC iPlayer or ITV’s website learned about results of matches through social media first (or through others screaming in joy or dismay).

Latency and buffering have now become mots du jour for those who regularly stream content on their favourite devices. We’re all too aware of the ‘wheel of death’ that obstructs our enjoyment of the hottest Netflix series, and if we’re left waiting too long for a service to buffer, it detracts from the overall viewing experience and can prompt us to turn to a service provider that won’t leave us waiting.

Since the days of the World Cup back in June, the BBC has said that it has worked out how to eliminate the streaming lag that caused a delay to its live TV watched online. However, the software is not ready to be rolled out to the public just yet. Rumours indicate a potential 2022 roll-out, just in time for the next World Cup in Qatar.

While we live in a streaming age, with content constantly at our fingertips, it does take longer to process streaming feeds than broadcast feeds. If we look at how video is streamed online, this involves processing lots of bits of data very quickly. The more data you have to process, the longer it takes to reassemble and send to a device. This then causes a delay between what is being sent to your device, and what you’re seeing on your screen.

While latency is important, so is reliability. As an increasing number of fans also flock to the likes of BBC iPlayer, ITV Hub or Amazon Prime to watch their favourite teams battle it out, this becomes a wider user experience issue. The more pressure on demand – i.e. access to streaming services – the more bandwidth is required to send all of those matches to each individual’s device of choice, without disruption or delay.

The internet was never designed for live broadcasting, so it’s amazing what has been achieved thus far, and how well broadcast engineers have designed today’s TV experience for ever-demanding and unforgiving consumers. The solution is a combination of software advances (such as those by the BBC) and highly connected data centres.

Highly connected data centres, such as Interxion’s data centre campus on Brick Lane in East London, act as connectivity hubs. They crunch broadcast data and spin it out globally – via content delivery platforms and enabled by ISPs – to ensure low latency and reliable streaming for all. Interxion has been at the forefront of digital media connectivity for years – its strategically placed data centres in dense urban locations, supported by ISPs and communities of interest, form the basis of an interesting solution to a problem plaguing the digital media industry. And with the launch of LON3 – Interxion’s third data centre in London – we are the perfect partner for those streaming providers who want to level the playing field and make latency an issue of the past.