Carlos Dunlap (8) and the Chiefs celebrate a Super Bowl LVII win. Kansas City Chiefs defensive end Carlos Dunlap (8) celebrates with the Lombardi Trophy after defeating the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl LVII at State Farm Stadium in Glendale on Feb. 12, 2023. Nfl Super Bowl Lvii Kansas City Chiefs Vs Philadelphia Eagles

One of the biggest issues with streaming sports is latency, or lag behind what’s happening on the field. There’s always some lag from what’s seen in person at the game to what’s seen even over-the-air or cable broadcasts. But that lag gets worse still for those streaming the game, which can cause problems for those trying to watch the game and engage with social media or text commentary on it. And, according to an analysis from real-time streaming firm Phenix, the lag was largely worse than before for the Super Bowl this year.

There’s a lot of context to consider in this discussion. Streaming comes in many forms, including from virtual multichannel video providers like YouTube TV or FuboTV or through apps like NFL+ and the Fox Sports app. There is that lag even over the air, which Phenix CMO Jed Corenthal estimated as usually around eight to 20 seconds in pre-game comments to Chris Velazco of The Washington Post. And lag isn’t the same for all viewers even using the same streaming platform, or for all viewers streaming.

And lag isn’t all about the particular streaming platform, as it can also depend on the stadium infrastructure, the broadcaster infrastructure, internet service providers’ infrastructure, and even the end-user’s TV/internet setup. But, with all that said, the Phenix data is interesting, as they’ve been doing similar studies for the past five years of the Super Bowl (as well as Game 1 of the 2021 Stanley Cup Final and the 2020 NFL draft) . That means those studies’ results are at least somewhat comparable to each other. (And yes, they have a stake here given their own work as a streaming provider, and one that emphasizes low latency for sports. But that doesn’t wipe out their data, especially when compared across years.) Here’s their 2023 data from Super Bowl LVII, which has an average lag of 56.9 seconds across the measured services:

Phenix's lag data for 2023 Super Bowl streaming.
Phenix’s lag data for 2023 Super Bowl streaming.

The Phenix website’s page on their 2023 data describes their methodology as follows:

“Phenix collected 167 data points benchmarking latency across six (6) common streaming platforms on a variety of devices and operating systems. For a comprehensive view of latency from the field of play to the average viewer, Phenix benchmarked latency of over-the-air broadcast (OTA), cable and satellite against an individual inside the State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona.”

“Phenix then measured the delay from these benchmarked signals to six (6) commonly used streaming platforms on a variety of devices and operating systems across geographies within the US.  By combining these measurements, Phenix is able to provide a more complete picture of the average latency and drift for each of the streaming services behind the action on the field.”

“Each streaming source included data points from both web and app based experiences.”

This doesn’t necessarily represent the entirety of the Super Bowl streaming experience. 167 data points isn’t a huge number, especially split amongst all these platforms and with individual streaming experiences varying so widely based on factors other than the streamer. (And that average lag of 56.9 seconds mentioned above is our calculation of the average of the numbers for the six platforms provided: we don’t know if these platforms each had equal numbers of people watching on them or if some had more.) But this study’s approach is similar to the approaches Phenix has taken in the past, so it makes sense to look at how their data has changed across the last five Super Bowls. Here’s their comparable graph from 2022’s Super Bowl LVI, which had an average lag of 54.3 seconds across eight streaming platforms, 2.6 seconds better than this year:

There are five streaming companies included in both of these charts: the NFL app (that’s NFL+ now, but it’s still similar) and MVPDs fuboTV, YouTube TV, Hulu, and DirecTV Stream. Four of them saw notable average lag increases from 2022 to 2023: 1.8 seconds for YouTube TV, 8.7 seconds for Hulu, 10.7 seconds for the NFL, and 21.6 seconds for fuboTV. DirecTV Stream actually improved by 1.9 seconds, but the best streaming performance this year came from the Fox Sports app at 23.8 seconds, well ahead of last year’s comparable NBC Sports app (55.6 seconds).

Also for comparison, here’s Phenix’s data from 2021’s Super Bowl LV, 2020’s Super Bowl LIV, and 2019’s Super Bowl LIII:

Phenix's lag data for 2021 Super Bowl streaming.
Phenix’s lag data for 2021 Super Bowl streaming.
Phenix's lag data for 2020 Super Bowl streaming.
Phenix’s lag data for 2020 Super Bowl streaming.
Phenix's lag data for 2019 Super Bowl streaming.
Phenix’s lag data for 2019 Super Bowl streaming.

As time goes on, one might expect streaming performance to improve as technology improves, especially with so much talk out there about ways to reduce latency. But, at least per these measurements from Phenix, the opposite has been happening with the Super Bowl, at least for everyone but Fox. The best non-Fox number this year was YouTube TV’s 54.1 seconds, which would have been the worst number in 2019 and 2021 and the second-worst in 2020 (but the third-best last year). And the average of the eight services tracked in 2019 was 37.7 seconds, almost 20 seconds better than this year’s 56.9 average. So that’s certainly disappointing to see that regression.

But, again, this wasn’t a universal experience for everyone who streamed. The other important piece of 2023 data from Phenix is this chart on how much the lag varied on each of the tracked services.

Phenix's Super Bowl audience drift data from 2023.
Phenix’s Super Bowl audience drift data from 2023.

So some people Phenix tracked on the worst-performing platform on average (fuboTV) actually experienced lower lag than those on the best-performing platform (the Fox Sports app). And the DirecTV Stream range was particularly wild, with some people there getting lag in the low 40 seconds and others getting almost 100 seconds more. But overall, this was the worst year in five years by this study for those streaming on average, and it was particularly bad for those watching on anything but Fox. And Phenix CMO Corenthal and CEO Roy Reichbach had notable comments on that in a release:

“Throughout this entire NFL season, users from a variety of streaming platforms have routinely flocked to social media to express their frustration with delays, spoilers, and buffering. To be able to stream the biggest game of the year, platforms must effectively control common streaming risks like changing network conditions, viewing surges, and latency – anything otherwise, is simply not fair to the consumer and does a grave disservice to the NFL” – Roy Reichbach, CEO of Phenix

“The Super Bowl will be streamed to millions of fans who will chat and text with each other during the game. Unfortunately, with the delays in technology that broadcasters and streaming platforms employ, this interactivity can’t extend far beyond the living room, as it’s supposed to, with fear of spoilers from Twitter or a text from your group chat coming a minute too early. In 2023, there’s no excuse for delays and buffering to impact the viewing experience this poorly, especially for one of the biggest events of the year.” – Jed Corenthal, CMO of Phenix

It will be interesting to see how where the streaming situation goes from here, and if the latency numbers improve for 2024’s Super Bowl LVIII, or if they continue their slide.

[Phenix; top photo of the Chiefs’ Super Bowl LVII trophy celebration from Michael Chow/The Arizona Republic, via USA Today Sports]

About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz has been covering sports media for Awful Announcing since 2012. He is also a staff writer for The Comeback. His previous work includes time at Yahoo! Sports Canada and Black Press.