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Low Latency Streaming for Live Sports Events: Full Guide for Ops Teams

Photo of people cheering on a live sports game on TV with low latency - featured image

Live events are rapidly becoming the most important streaming content. People watch live video 10 to 20 times longer than on-demand content, and it also earns 27% more minutes of watch time per viewing. Only it’s not just the amount of time spent. The number of people watching is growing steadily too, with 63% of those aged 18-34 viewing live-streamed content regularly. Key amongst all live content: sports.

Unfortunately for operations teams, it’s also the most unforgiving. Here, low latency streaming and high QoE are an absolute must, or else you’re in trouble, potentially even ruining customer relationships forever. 

Just imagine a sports fan missing the penalty shootout of their favourite team at the 2022 World Cup due to a streaming error or latency issues. They may never forgive you. In general, your bottom line will be hit hard in various ways if QoE drops even for a brief moment. From a lack of ad impressions to subscriber churn, a poor live-streaming experience can drive your viewers into the arms of your competitors. 

So keeping up low latency streaming of sports events at all times is not a choice, it’s a must-have. This article explains how operations teams can do just that.

Ensuring low latency streaming of sports events starts with monitoring

As more major streaming operators like Netflix and Disney get into live streaming, it’s becoming increasingly important to ensure viewer satisfaction. However, a host of issues can result in decreased QoE. Bitmovin, in a survey of 1000 UK respondents, found that more than one in three (38%) had unsubscribed from a streaming service due to buffering. Their research also found that nearly a quarter of Brits (23%) would drop a service with poor video quality. The result is that problems like these could cost your streaming platform as much as £45M per month. That’s why monitoring is so critical. To understand the causes of buffering and poor quality, you need visibility into the many factors that can cause a poor live-streaming experience.

The key monitoring challenges for maintaining low latency streaming

Monitoring may be what’s needed to ensure a great live-streaming sports experience, but it’s not as straightforward as it may seem.

There are a number of complexities that can complicate live stream monitoring:

Key monitoring challenges for maintaining low latency streaming - Touchstream infographic

Device fragmentation

According to the Radicati Group, there are 15.96 billion mobile devices worldwide in 2022. Yet, the number of them isn’t the problem. It’s all of the different device versions, which only support specific formats of streaming video (e.g. CMAF vs HLS vs Dash). Because of this, operators delivering live sports streams must encode and package their content to reach the majority of devices.

This not only complicates the workflow but makes monitoring even more difficult as the operator must ensure each stream is available and performing well everywhere. Supporting 15 to 20 devices, from Smart TVs to mobile phones, is one thing, but when the content is ABR, those devices may each need 5 to 7 bitrates. Whatever monitoring solution is used must be able to track each and every version of every stream for every device.

Network issues

Of course, the network is a critical part of a live-streaming experience, especially when the licensed rights allow for wider distribution. However, as streaming is different from broadcast, it requires a much more complex distribution network often involving multiple architectures.

Monitoring these different networks, which are usually controlled by third-party vendors, requires additional considerations. Not only will you need to pull the appropriate data from each, but you’ll also have to process it in a way that makes sense. When the data from one network is different from another, that requires another level of customisation that wastes valuable resources and time.

Difficulty troubleshooting

The culmination of the complexities required for supporting multiple devices and multiple delivery networks is a difficulty in troubleshooting. For real-time streaming events like sports, there are no second chances. When an issue happens that disrupts the playback experience, for example disrupting low latency streaming or causing quality degradation, there’s no opportunity to make it up. The viewers are upset. If it happens enough times, they become disgruntled, which increases their likelihood of churning.

The problem is that troubleshooting events quickly across dozens of streams, encoders, and third-party networks is difficult when using multiple monitoring tools. You’ll need to coordinate with different vendors or providers, share those monitoring tools or monitoring data, and hope that everyone can come to a consensus quickly.

Alerting and diagnosis

Before you can fix a problem, you first need to know that you have one–or that you may face one soon. However, as if troubleshooting itself isn’t enough of a challenge, you need to actually get the alerts and quickly diagnose their issues. For operations engineers to be most effective, they need to know what’s happening with the playback experience in real-time. 

Because of all the difficulties already covered, getting alerts fast enough to provide for quicker root cause analysis and diagnosis (and resolution) of issues is tricky at best. The number of devices multiplied by the number of streams and by the number of delivery networks, combined with all of the components within the delivery chain, can suggest a crazy number of possible alerts. However, all of those alerts can create an analysis-paralysis situation and ultimately make it much harder to diagnose issues.

Integration

The live streaming workflow, when you consider it from content acquisition all the way through to playback, involves a lot of components. There are encoders, packagers, licence servers, ad servers, caches, and more. All of those components, sometimes spread across different networks and providers, cause data fragmentation. This further adds to the complexity of monitoring the entire live-streaming experience because, again, everything needs to be addressed in real-time. Ultimately, integrating a monitoring solution with every component can be time-consuming and costly to maintain

Why delivering low latency streaming at all times is crucial

Solving those complexities isn’t easy, but failing to do so will impact the bottom line. First, subscribers churn and look for future sporting content on competitor platforms. Second, even if they don’t churn, they may drop off a stream and find the content elsewhere. If your live sports streaming is supported in any part by advertising, this can seriously hurt ad sales and ad revenue. 

The question, then, is “how can you monitor effectively despite the complexities of live event streaming?” The answer is simple: the right monitoring solution. 

The issue that most streaming operators face in monitoring is the proliferation of tools. Each vendor often has their own dashboard which requires operations to display each on the wall of the NOC. Of course, some provide API access to ingest data, but it’s still on the operator’s shoulders to identify the connections and post-process the data so that what’s available is actionable observability–seeing the connection between the different tools and being able to drill into one when there’s an issue.  

To solve the problem, operators need a single tool, one that provides an end-to-end monitoring solution, including OTT ad insertion detection, and which rolls up into a live stream monitoring dashboard. This significantly reduces the complexity of live stream delivery by consolidating everything. Operations no longer have to worry about monitoring device fragmentation, multiple streams, or different components individually. A single monitoring tool takes care of that and, when implemented correctly, provides a more proactive, preventative approach. If everything across the entire workflow is displayed in a single dashboard, operations are equipped to identify and address issues before viewers ever know there was an upstream issue. Thus preventing any low latency streaming issues.

Low latency streaming of sports events equals low churn

There is no doubt that live streaming, like sports, will continue to grow in popularity. It’s also clear that the complexity of delivering live events complicates your ability to monitor and ensure the best possible viewing experience, including low latency streaming. Without a clear monitoring tool that visualises all the data from throughout the workflow in an easily accessible fashion, you’ll never be able to identify what’s increasing latency, undermining quality, and jeopardising the viewer experience. Yet, in a highly competitive market, your ability to ensure a high QoE is exactly what will make the difference between keeping your subscribers and seeing them switch over to a competitor. 

Are you looking for ways to deliver your sports streaming with reduced latency and high QoE? Get started today with Touchstream and request a demo today.