By Melanie Mayberry, programming editor

TV Answer Man, why does Netflix have a better stream than when I watch Sling TV? Netflix rarely has buffering but Sling has that little circle going around and around quite often. Can you explain? — Hal, Dallas.

Hal, the TV Answer Woman is taking this one. This is a question that we are frequently asked by readers. Why do live streaming services such as Sling TV, Hulu or YouTube TV has picture interruptions when Netflix has relatively few. There are several reasons for this including:

Content Delivery Network (CDN)
One of the key factors behind Netflix’s impressive streaming performance is its extensive Content Delivery Network (CDN). Netflix has built a global network of servers strategically placed across various regions. These servers store and distribute copies of popular content closer to the end-users, reducing the distance data needs to travel. By utilizing geographically distributed servers, Netflix minimizes latency and ensures a smoother streaming experience with fewer buffering issues.

In contrast, live streaming platforms often rely on a smaller number of servers due to the real-time nature of the content. This limitation can result in higher congestion and increased buffering instances, particularly during peak usage times.

Pre-caching and Pre-loading
Netflix employs advanced pre-caching and pre-loading techniques to optimize the streaming experience for its users. When you select a title on Netflix, the platform’s algorithms analyze your viewing patterns and preferences. Based on this data, Netflix pre-caches parts of the content in the background before you even start watching. This allows for a seamless streaming experience with minimal buffering, as the data is readily available to be streamed.

In contrast, live streaming platforms cannot predict the specific content a user will watch in advance. This lack of pre-caching capabilities can lead to buffering delays, especially when live events attract a surge of concurrent viewers.

Adaptive Bitrate Streaming
Netflix employs adaptive bitrate streaming, a technology that adjusts the quality of the video stream based on the viewer’s Internet connection speed and device capabilities. This ensures that users receive the best possible streaming quality without buffering interruptions. Netflix constantly monitors the network conditions and seamlessly adjusts the video quality in real-time, allowing for uninterrupted playback.

Live streaming platforms often struggle with delivering consistent streaming quality, as the real-time nature of the content makes it challenging to adapt to varying network conditions. In live streaming, buffering may occur if the network connection deteriorates or experiences congestion.

Pre-recorded Content vs. Real-time Broadcasts
Another significant factor contributing to Netflix’s superior buffering performance is the nature of its content. Netflix primarily offers pre-recorded content, such as movies and TV shows, which allows for extensive pre-processing and optimization. This enables Netflix to encode the videos in various formats and sizes, optimizing them for different devices and network conditions. By pre-processing the content, Netflix can significantly reduce buffering instances and provide a seamless streaming experience.

In contrast, live streaming platforms rely on real-time broadcasts, such as live sports events or news. Live content cannot be extensively pre-processed or optimized, as it is happening in real-time. This limitation increases the chances of buffering interruptions, especially during peak viewing times when the number of concurrent viewers is high.

Live streaming continues to get better, but it may be years more before it delivers a picture as reliable and consistent as Video on Demand services such as Netflix, Max, Disney+ or Hulu.

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

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— Phillip Swann