An analysis of last year's big game reveals some apps stream faster than others, leaving you open to spoilers.
Streaming the 2020 Super Bowl is sure to be a popular way for cord cutters and other fans who don't pay for cable or satellite TV service to experience the big game. But there's a catch. No matter which livestreaming app you choose to watch the Super Bowl, from the Fox Sports app to the NFL app to a live TV streaming service like YouTube TV or Hulu with Live TV, you won't exactly be watching live. Instead, the stream will be delayed by up to a minute.
Fox Sports, which is broadcasting this year's game as well as streaming it on the Fox Sports app, acknowledges that those streaming the game will experience the action quite a bit later than those watching in the stadium.
"We are working on improving the latency with a high focus -- however due to the scale of the event this is one area where we will see some variance," Steven Thorpe, Fox's vice president of video platforms, told CNET in an email. "I would expect users to see about 12 seconds to 1 minute of latency (behind the venue) depending on a variety of factors including: device type, network and other conditions."
Phenix, a technology company that provides the infrastructure for real-time video feeds, found that last year's streams of the Super Bowl were often delayed by at least 28 seconds compared to the action taking place in real time on the field. The CBS Sports app was the fastest among the eight compared services to stream updates from Mercedes-Benz Stadium at 28.2 seconds, nearly 18 seconds faster than laggards CBS All Access and the Yahoo Sports app.
CBS was the television provider for last year's game. (Disclosure: CNET is a division of CBS Interactive, which is owned by ViacomCBS.)
Fubo, a streaming provider that offers Fox and will be streaming the Super Bowl in both HD and 4K, told CNET that latency is important, but its users have made clear that adding the extra seconds to ensure a smooth stream without buffering takes priority around big events like the Super Bowl.
Current streaming technology delivers the video not in real time but in chunks of files, each typically four to six seconds in length, which are then assembled in the buffer memory of the device, such as a Fire TV or Apple TV media streamer or smart TV. "You can expect typical live streams to be between 20 and 30 seconds behind linear delivery methods," said Peter Chave, principal media architect at Akamai, a company that delivers content over the internet.
The Chicago-based Phenix said that its technology -- which uses a different video encoding than traditional broadcasters that is instead built around the open-source WebRTC format -- can allow for streams to be delivered to millions in near real time, though it is not working with Fox on the Super Bowl.
Those streaming "will have a delay," Jed Corenthal, Phenix's chief market officer, told CNET. "I don't know how much ... but there is no doubt in my mind there will be delays. Some worse than others."
When conducting its analysis of last year's game, Phenix only looked at streaming options for its study and did not include traditional "linear" broadcasts delivered through cable, satellite or over-the-air antennas. Those broadcasts generally have a delay of five seconds or so to help networks guard against profanity or wardrobe malfunctions.
While there are always delays for live content, anything longer than five or so seconds and you subject yourself to spoilers via Twitter, app notifications or through a betting site if you're in a state that lets you place wagers on the action.
If you're concerned about making sure you get as close to real time as possible for this year's big game and don't want cable or satellite, this is a reminder that you should maybe get an antenna instead.
And if you're hosting a Super Bowl party and streaming the game, perhaps ask your guests to stay off Twitter until it ends.
Originally published earlier this week.