TV Answer Man, I watched the Bills-Dolphins game on Sunday on streaming and the plays were about 40 seconds behind the real time action. I like to talk to people on Twitter during the game but they had seen the plays long before I did. I have noticed that streaming delays are always the case on live sports. Why is this? — Barry, Orlando. 

Barry, the Miami Dolphins-Buffalo Bills NFL playoff game on Sunday was streamed live on Paramount+ as well as broadcast on CBS. In addition, several Net TV services, such as DIRECTV Stream, YouTube and Hulu Live, streamed the game for their subscribers. However, some streaming viewers posted complaints on social media sites that their feeds were 30 to 60 seconds behind the action on CBS.

Unfortunately, this is not unusual for a stream of a live sporting event. Let me explain. It’s a little complicated.

There are two kinds of streaming: Live and On Demand. Netflix, for instance, is an on-demand service. That means its programming is loaded onto servers and distributed over the Internet to our homes.

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We choose the on-demand shows we want to watch, and they are usually delivered without any technical snafus because they have previously been stored on those servers. This gives the on-demand services time to ensure the distribution will be done with relatively few flaws.

However, live streaming from services such as Paramount+, DIRECTV Stream, Sling TV and others cannot be pre-loaded because the signals from the live channels are distributed in near real-time. Consequently, the live stream sometimes encounters technical issues during the transmission.

The live streamers try to minimize this issue by distributing the signals after a short delay, usually from 30 to 60 seconds, although it’s sometimes shorter. (That’s why your Bills-Dolphins stream was behind CBS.) This gives them some time to reduce possible glitches in the stream which can cause buffering or picture freezing. The added time also permits the engineers to make adjustments for commercials and other game breaks if needed.

The live streaming industry is hopeful that the technology will improve and ultimately eliminate this issue.  But as of now, live streaming is still prone to technical hiccups and therefore requires a delay.

Barry, hope that helps. Happy viewing and stay safe!

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— Phillip Swann