Progress Isn't Linear: YouTube TV's World Cup Flub Threatens Public's Trust For Sports Streaming

from the cup-up dept

As we've pointed out any number of times over the past few years, cord-cutting is a very real thing and represents a threat to the cable television industry as it exists today. One of the last threads from which that industry largely hangs is professional sports broadcasts, with cable network providers having traditionally locked up pro and college sports broadcast rights in long-term exclusive deals. That has slowly begun to change, as the leagues of the world have finally gotten on board with streaming providers big and small, connected to the cable industry or not. If this is adopted en masse, it puts disruptive change for cable on the horizon.

But progress isn't linear and one of the threats to keeping this train on its tracks is the quality of the experience for users that dive into these sports streaming options. Especially early on in this kind of change, providers getting things right is extremely important, as reputations and public perception of the viability of sports streaming are more than somewhat on the line. And YouTube recently botched its broadcast of the World Cup match between England and Croatia.

In the middle of Wednesday's World Cup semifinal match between England and Croatia, YouTube's live TV service suffered an unfortunately-timed outage (not unlike ones we've seen from Sling or Hulu). Naturally, it enraged YouTube TV subscribers who had picked up the service specifically to catch live broadcasts like that game, and now it's offering an apology in the form of a credit.

There are several unfortunate factors at play for why this specific screw-up is worse for the reputation of sports streaming than it might have been otherwise. We can start with the most obvious factor: this is YouTube we're talking about. Look, there are plenty of good streaming service providers out there, but YouTube is the king of them, by reputation if not by fact. Having that name tied to this screw up is likely to register with the public as an indication that streaming for sports may not be ready for prime time.

The second factor: this was the World Cup we're talking about. The popularity of this event, and its related viewership, is immense. The public knows that. Any streaming service for World Cup broadcasts has to know that its service is going to be heavily trafficked and ought to have its shit in order to accommodate the event's popularity. Heavy viewerships shouldn't be a surprise and, whatever the actual cause of YouTube's interruption, it will be assumed by most that viewership load played a factor.

Now, as the post notes, streaming interruptions have happened before and they will happen again. Much of the reaction to what I outlined above will be at least in part unfair. But if you're rooting for sports streaming to erupt in popularity, or if you're a streaming provider trying to get more leagues on board, this kind of a screw up was about as bad in terms of timing as it gets.


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  • icon
    Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile), 16 Jul 2018 @ 6:48pm

    One Mother of All F'ups.

    To begin with, I would like to understand what the actual problem was, which could be different from what You Tube says it was.

    After that, with an operation as big a You Tube, how is it that they could not predict the size of the expected audience, if that was in fact the problem? One would think they might have some ability to react to large changes in users that has been developed over time, or is it just the number of users requesting just one program?

    Then, I have often wondered why other organizations did not just open a channel, subscription or pay per view or advertising or whatever, to the many folks offering content, then why don't those offering content take them up that. It appears that You Tube has such relationships, which brings up the question for those others as to why they would want to take on the cost of developing, maintaining, and supporting such an operation when a viable option already exists? Then it hit me...control.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 17 Jul 2018 @ 3:03am

      Re: One Mother of All F'ups.

      "To begin with, I would like to understand what the actual problem was, which could be different from what You Tube says it was."

      I've had a quick look around, but I'm not seeing any official announcement about the cause of the issues, only acknowledgement that there were problems on their end. Do you have a link to their explanation?

      "how is it that they could not predict the size of the expected audience, if that was in fact the problem?"

      Well, firstly there's a big chance that this was not the problem.

      Secondly, from the reports I've read this, was specifically a problem with the YouTube TV service within the US. No other YouTube region or service was affected. This could have been an indication of some problem specifically within the company's US infrastructure (e.g. a data centre outage), or it could have meant that they underestimated the popularity of the game within a sport traditionally not popular in the US, and that the exclusivity of this particular service meant that it was not trivial to redirect resources from elsewhere in the company / world.

      So, even if you ignore things like the possibility that it was due to external attacks, problems on the backbone, catastrophic hardware failure, routing issues and so on, it seems like an issue they can easily learn from and improve, given that this is different from their "normal" YouTube service.

      "Then, I have often wondered why other organizations did not just open a channel, subscription or pay per view or advertising or whatever, to the many folks offering content, then why don't those offering content take them up that"

      There's a thing called licensing, and large sports events often attract exclusive contracts, meaning that other organisations may not have been able to legally offer streaming video within the US for this game. I'm not sure if this was the case here, but even so if another company was offering streaming, that would have meant having people jump ship mid-game to another service, which would certainly have replicated the problem had it indeed been a simple question of numbers.

      "Then it hit me...control."

      Presumably by FIFA, yes. They'll be the ones selling the exclusive licences.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Jul 2018 @ 10:21pm

    censorship test.

    ...funny; I bet most of the kodi streams were working fine.



    Signed: Someone who's paid thousands for sports bundled crap I never wanted, and couldn't refuse....

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Jul 2018 @ 11:49pm

    “Sh*t in order”, really? Is there an important order to sh*t?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 16 Jul 2018 @ 11:52pm

    >Now, as the post notes, streaming interruptions have happened before and they will happen again.

    As have cable Interruptions, and depending on which part of the distribution tree goes down, can be fairly widespread as well. Often the weak link, to both cable and streaming, is the feed out of the event.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Jul 2018 @ 12:29am

    Optus (telco) had exclusive rights for the majority of the world cup matches here in Australia which were available via streaming. SBS (free to air tv channel) had all the Australian matches plus a small selection of other matches. From the very first match the streaming was beset by problems and pretty much unwatchable. Optus customers with data plans got the streams for free but others had paid money to watch. The outcry was huge, even being mentioned in parliament. Optus was unable to get the streaming to work and all matches were shown on free to air tv. They must have lost an enormous amount of money, but the reputation hit is the thing - who would trust them with streaming in future?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Rekrul, 17 Jul 2018 @ 5:10am

    You know what I'd like to see?

    Announcer: This is it! The most important goal of the game! If he makes this shot it will be all...

    "Do you need new glasses? Glasses.com can help! Out experts are here to help you get the glasses you need!" [SKIP AD IN 5-4-3-2-1]

    Announcer: DID YOU SEE THAT SHOT! THAT'S THE MOST INCREDIBLE THING I'VE SEEN!

    That's one of the things that really pisses me off about YouTube; You'll be right in the middle of watching a video and a frigging ad comes on. I use the MVP Hosts file to block ads and back when YouTube was using Flash for its videos, it used to work perfectly. Since they switched to HTML5 I can't block the ads any more. What's worse is that about half the time, the stupid Skip button doesn't work. I click it and it just stays on the damn ad. Then I have to reload the page, another ad plays and I have to hope the Skip button on that one works.

    I know, I know; I'm the only person in the entire world that this happens to, YouTube's ad system works 100% flawlessly for everyone else.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 17 Jul 2018 @ 5:36am

      Re:

      Ublock Origin works well in keeping the adds on YouTube away.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 17 Jul 2018 @ 6:33am

      Re:

      Flawlessly? No. As unobtrusive as possible for the majority of the time (given that you're using the service for free and they do allow you to skip the ads, unlike streams from many legacy broadcasters), acceptable enough for the occasional bad placement of ads by algorithms? Sure.

      Also, this was something on YouTubeTV, a paid subscription service. Do they still have ads on that?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Dan (profile), 17 Jul 2018 @ 9:00am

        Re: Re:

        Yes, there are ads on Youtube TV, and no, you can't skip them (at least when watching live). I believe, but am not certain, they're the same ads shown OTA.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          PaulT (profile), 18 Jul 2018 @ 1:19am

          Re: Re: Re:

          "I believe, but am not certain, they're the same ads shown OTA."

          OK, that's a different problem then, as you're paying YouTube for their own service (access to other streams) and they don't control whether the content has ads. You wouldn't be able to use something like ublock to stop them, as they're part of the actual video stream, and not something being inserted on top of it.

          I'm sure it's annoying, but if people are still willing to pay YouTube for access rather than go straight to the originating network, that speaks volumes about how poor their service still is.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Rekrul, 18 Jul 2018 @ 5:33pm

        Re: Re:

        Flawlessly? No.

        I'm just used to being told that my problems are unique. I once complained that disc burning is a flaky process that was never really perfected since different drives have problems with different brands of disc, discs burned in one drive sometimes don't work in others, etc. I was told by multiple people that they had never had a single problem with burned discs. Years ago, using one particular version of Firefox, I was seeing large gray boxes obscuring parts of some long web pages. Once again, nobody else had ever had that problem. I installed a copy of the game Red Faction on my old system and about a minute into the game, it would completely stop responding to the keyboard and the mouse buttons (although it still read mouse movement). I contacted the company and even the developers and... You guessed it; I'm the only one who had this problem.

        As unobtrusive as possible for the majority of the time (given that you're using the service for free and they do allow you to skip the ads, unlike streams from many legacy broadcasters), acceptable enough for the occasional bad placement of ads by algorithms? Sure.

        Not all ads are skippable. Sometimes the little box in the corner will say "Video will play after ad."

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          PaulT (profile), 19 Jul 2018 @ 4:18am

          Re: Re: Re:

          "Sometimes the little box in the corner will say "Video will play after ad.""

          Usually only the ones that are very short and close to the 5 sec / whatever wait you'd normally have. Compared to broadcast TV, it still very unobtrusive. Slightly annoying, for sure, but I'll take that over YouTube becoming a paid subscription service any day.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      ShadowNinja (profile), 17 Jul 2018 @ 10:08am

      Re:

      Use an ad blocker, it makes those things go away.

      The only ads I see on Youtube are the first 30 seconds after I started my web browser. But I can easily just close Youtube and come back a few minutes later.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    JoeCool (profile), 17 Jul 2018 @ 6:26am

    Really?

    The second factor: this was the World Cup we're talking about. The popularity of this event, and its related viewership, is immense.

    Maybe elsewhere, but this is the US, and World Cup viewership is at an all-time low given no US team in it. I imagine youtube engineers were like "Meh. It's just soccer. Not like anyone is watching..."

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 17 Jul 2018 @ 6:43am

      Re: Really?

      "Maybe elsewhere, but this is the US, and World Cup viewership is at an all-time low given no US team in it"

      That's a sad statement, in a way, although one typical of the times. The entire world is joining together to enjoy a certain event, but one country won't bother participating unless they have a specific personal stake. No chance of personal glory, many won't even acknowledge it, as the rest of the world watches on.

      Kind of the reverse of the baseball "world series" where only one country takes part.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        JoeCool (profile), 17 Jul 2018 @ 7:55am

        Re: Re: Really?

        To be pedantic, TWO countries can take part right now, and there's a push for a third that may take part in the next few years. But yes, it's hardly a World Series by any measure. Funny part is that Little League is far more worthy of the title than the Major Leagues. :)

        As to popularity in the US, the main problem isn't that it doesn't have personal glory (ask Pele about that), it's that it's too defensive for US viewers. Many games end with a score of 0 to 1, 1 to 2, or 1 to 3 (which is usually considered a "blow-out"). Most of the game consists of running around playing "keep-away", which is a little kid's game in the US. Put a shot clock on that mother and maybe you'll get a larger US crowd cheering.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          PaulT (profile), 17 Jul 2018 @ 8:26am

          Re: Re: Re: Really?

          Yeah, I also know that the term originated from the name of a sponsor rather than it being an actual declaration of the competition being global. I just like the irony - you won't bother with something truly worldwide because you lost the playoffs, yet talk up a trophy that's barely participated in outside of your borders (for the record, I am being tongue in cheek here).

          "Most of the game consists of running around playing "keep-away", which is a little kid's game in the US."

          Rounders and netball are generally considered kids or girls' games in the UK (or at least were when I was a kid), yet you lot go nuts over the relatively equivalent sports baseball and basketball. Most rugby fans will happily mock American football for your need to wear armour and stop running every 10 seconds, while players of those games barely stop for 20 mins unless they're visibly injured (and yes, the relative wimps in our football get mocked by them as well).

          I'm no sports fan, but there's always a comeback.

          "Put a shot clock on that mother and maybe you'll get a larger US crowd cheering."

          I'm sure the rest of the world would rather that, for once, you join in with what others are doing, rather than trying to dictate how everyone else acts. The viewing figures for the World Cup do outnumber your country's entire population, after all.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Tanner Andrews (profile), 8 Aug 2018 @ 12:00am

        Re: Re: Really?

        the baseball "world series" where only one country takes part.

        I suppose it should be noted that the ``World Series'' is actually named for the original sponsor, the New York World (newspaper). There was never intended any suggestion that people from outside the States should be in any wise involved.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Jul 2018 @ 6:58am

    Streaming content is .. (caching) .. really annoying when it .. (caching) .. has those nasty interruptions .. (caching) .. and I would rather do something constructive.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 17 Jul 2018 @ 7:56am

    What was the nature of the outage?

    Maybe because I like tech, maybe because I like streaming, I want to know what kind of outage occurred. The only news I;m finding about the subject is the $19 credit, not the outage itself. Was it a 500 error? Was it a blackout? Was it a buffering issue? This is important because there may be foul play afoot.

    Unless YouTube/Alphabet sent out their own group of cameramen and cameras they would have bought the rebroadcast right from an existing company. Any existing broadcaster wouldn't want online streaming to succeed. Sabotaging a feed where England is playing would be a pretty good choice.

    Yes, I am that paranoid.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 17 Jul 2018 @ 8:55am

      Re: What was the nature of the outage?

      This whole thing seems to be a Rorschach test.

      Were YouTube sabotaged? Bandwidth restricted by outside forces? Oversubscribed? Hardware failure? Incompetence? Not bothered because nobody in the US likes football anyway?

      There's lots of assumptions in all sorts of directions, with equal lack of evidence for every one.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 18 Jul 2018 @ 6:39am

    Technical loads

    Ironically the world cup is one of the few events from a bandwidth perspective that it would make legitimate sense to broadcast. The traditional load is by area and not per user - at the cost of interactivity. Internet videoes and even cable scaling wise a 1:1 model makes more sense. Plus most are interested in it live only - afterwards everyone who remotely cares knows France won.

    Granted the switch-over would have issues but it brings to mind event based channel licenses for public airwaves. Probably overkill and redundant to what the actual signals experts know and use.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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