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NBA App Slashes Streaming Latency; What That Means for Future of Sports Streaming

David Satin

Have you ever been watching a sporting event on a streaming service and noticed you’re significantly behind the live broadcast? It can be incredibly frustrating for viewers to notice that they’re missing out on big plays because their service is still buffering.

That delay of transmission from camera to streaming platform is called latency, and the NBA has been working feverishly to reduce it on the new NBA app. The app integrates the NBA’s out-of-market games package NBA League Pass with its linear channel NBA TV, and the combination has produced better latency numbers than have ever been seen by the league, according to Front Office Sports.

The new app slashes latency to around 12 seconds, a 70% decrease from the 30-40 seconds that the NBA previously experienced. The drop in latency comes thanks to a two-year development partnership between the NBA and Microsoft, who worked together to produce the new, faster NBA app. The league would like to go even further in slashing latency, aiming for a goal of just a few seconds.

If the NBA manages to get its latency numbers that low, it would be in line with those that broadcast TV manages to hit. Broadcasters usually build in a delay of 6-8 seconds in live broadcasts, so they can potentially edit any content that doesn’t meet with network or FCC standards.

Latency is one of the biggest technical issues keeping sports from moving to a completely streaming format. By getting to a latency period that matches what broadcast TV offers, sports leagues and their streaming partners will ensure that viewers are getting all the action as quickly as possible and won’t be spoiled by social media on a second screen.

The proliferation of sports betting and its integration into streaming sports broadcasts is also highly affected by latency. Delays allow gamblers to know what will happen a few seconds earlier if they’re watching live, and major sports leagues can never fully integrate their product with live wagering if latency isn’t brought to near-broadcast levels.

Latency has not been such a problem that sports leagues have shied away from streaming. The NFL is mostly seeing success with its move of “Thursday Night Football” to an all-streaming format on Prime Video, and will likely move its out-of-market package NFL Sunday Ticket to a streaming-only platform next year. The MLB streams games on a variety of platforms, including Apple TV, Peacock, and MLB.TV.

Still, solving the latency issue would go a long way toward convincing leagues to leave linear broadcasting behind. The best way to watch live sports from a technical standpoint is still via a live TV broadcast, but that is changing rapidly. Sports leagues like the NBA working to reduce latency are making big strides in moving sports broadcasting to an all-streaming format.

NBA League Pass

For fans of the NBA, the various League Pass services offer the opportunity to follow one team or the entire league with every game (blackout restrictions apply). Prices and features vary greatly, depending on what you’d like to watch.

Subscriptions include Home and Away broadcasts, Mobile View, plus additional languages and camera angles. You’ll also get in-stream advanced statistics so you can check the box score and get live stats on players and teams without ever leaving the stream.

The NBA offers three plans: “Team Pass” (US$ 13.99) provides great options if you only want to follow a single team.

“League Pass” (US$ 14.99) lets you see every game across the entire league.

The “League Pass Premium” (US$ 19.99) plan provides the option to watch on 2 devices without commercials.

NBA League Pass is also available as an Amazon Prime Video channel.

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