By Phillip Swann
The TV Answer Man –@tvanswerman
Author of TV Dot Com

TV Answer Man, I had NFL Sunday Ticket with DIRECTV and now I have it with YouTube. I think YouTube is better overall. What do you think? — Jamal, Sacramento, California.
Jamal, that’s a great question. With the NFL season now half over, this is a good time to issue a mid-season report card to Google/YouTube for its first year as the exclusive rights holder of the NFL Sunday Ticket. Let’s look at how the streaming service has done in some of the basic categories such as picture quality, technical performance and customer service.

How Does the NFL Sunday Ticket Look?

Picture Quality: A+
Google announced before the season that it would provide the games in 1080p HD, noting that it couldn’t do 4K because Fox and CBS don’t offer regular season contests in 4K. (The Sunday Ticket games are broadcast feeds from Fox and CBS.) From week one, the games have looked exceptional, better than what Ticket subscribers were used to watching DIRECTV’s Sunday Ticket for 28 seasons. The picture is sharp, detailed and vivid, in contrast to the lower-quality feeds found on local CBS (1080i) and Fox (720p) affiliates. The Sunday Ticket picture has become a reason to subscribe in addition to access to the out-of-market games. I’m giving the YouTube picture an A+, a rating usually reserved for a great 4K picture, because it’s delivering the best possible picture under the circumstances.

Does the Sunday Ticket Have Technical Issues?

Technical Performance: B+
For the first seven weeks, YouTube’s Sunday Ticket stream was nearly flawless, free of any widespread glitches that often occur during high-profile live streaming events. However, the streamer fumbled in week eight as fans experienced frequent buffering and blank screens during games and when attempting to switch from one game to another. The technical difficulties were not unexpected, but many analysts and fans (me included) thought it would happen earlier in the season. But YouTube rebounded nicely last Sunday (November 5) with a strong technical performance.

Does the Sunday Ticket Have Streaming Delays?

The streamer also gets praise for dramatically reducing the time lag on the Sunday Ticket stream compared to real-time action. Most live streaming events are anywhere from 30-60 seconds behind the real-time play. This is partially because streaming services have to delay the stream to monitor it for possible glitches before it reaches the home. (There are other reasons – you can read about them here.) But YouTube has been able to reduce the delay to 20 seconds or less, which is a tremendous accomplishment. The Ticket feeds are now even ahead of the NFL RedZone feeds.

YouTube should also get praise for its Multiview feature which provides up to four games on one screen at the same time. While DIRECTV also provided multi-screen displays of the Ticket, YouTube gets credit for offering multiple Multiviews during the games. That doesn’t totally alleviate fan concerns about not being able to choose which games are in YouTube’s Multiview, but it helps.

Sunday Ticket: Does It Have Good Customer Service?

Customer Service: B
Again, until week eight, YouTube excelled in this category. Before the season, the streamer’s customer service team quickly responded to subscriber questions about how the Ticket would be different from DIRECTV and other issues. And once the season began, the good work continued on social media, in forums such as Reddit and the YouTube customer help page. The company seemed hell bent to satisfy every possible concern to ensure it would get the most subscribers possible.

However, after the week eight debacle, the team didn’t just fumble; it was a pick six. The company acknowledged the glitches on game day at its social media sites, but it basically went radio silent after that. YouTube did not offer updates on the technical problems for four days until a company executive told a Sports Business Journal conference she was confident there would be no issues on the next Sunday (November 5). Plus, YouTube did not offer rebates for the technical issues, in contrast to DIRECTV which provided credits last year when its streaming feed for the Ticket experienced widespread glitches. Bally Sports, which suffered outages last week for its app, has also said it would provide rebates.

Hopefully, YouTube will learn that prompt customer service is required in good times and bad.

What Grade Would You Give YouTube’s Sunday Ticket?

Overall Grade: A-
YouTube’s Sunday Ticket picture combined with the streamer’s relatively strong technical performance gives it a solid A-. In future weeks, YouTube needs to keep the glitches at bay and learn a lesson or two about customer service but, overall, it’s been an impressive performance to date.

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The TV Answer Man is veteran journalist Phillip Swann who has covered the TV technology scene for more than three decades. He will report on the latest news and answer your questions regarding new devices and services that are changing the way you watch television. See the bio for Phillip Swann here.