The BBC iPlayer proved almost as popular as the England football team during the World Cup, but the tournament also revealed the current limits of online video for live events; now though the corporation’s R&D team says it has solved the problem of delays when mass audiences watch live internet streams.
To put the issue into perspective, 3.9 million people requested to watch England’s World Cup quarter final game against Sweden on the iPlayer and the BBC Sport web site reported a record 97% of such requests being live. This represented the BBC's highest online-viewed live programme ever. Yet just before the game, the BBC had to issue a warning that those seeking to watch the game over streaming services faced latency delays that could be as long as 20 seconds or seconds or more, unthinkable for a live event such as football.
Now with a new prototype demonstrated at IBC 2018, the BBC’s Research & Development (R&D) team says it has now has managed to show how the gap between an internet-delivered live stream and live TV via broadcast can be eliminated. While stressing that it had just a prototype and unlikely to change live streaming delays any time soon, the said that its demo was intended to show how new innovations can solve the issue, so that, in the future, fans watching over the internet won’t have to wait to see the action.
The low latency techniques BBC R&D has been experimenting with work by either reducing the duration of each segment of video file sent over the network, or by creating the segments progressively as a series of chunks that can be passed through the chain immediately as they become available. The BBC proposes that this will mean that, in the future, live streaming viewers watching over the internet will be able to see the action at the same time as they would see it if they were watching on TV.
“Obviously, viewers were frustrated this summer hearing goals go in before they saw them or finding out about a red card decisions on social media first,: said Chris Poole, lead research engineer for BBC R&D. “That’s why we’re so excited by the results of our experiments, and we’re hoping that the demonstration we’ll be showing at IBC will help accelerate the work taking place across the industry to eliminate long delays from internet streams. Earlier this year, [we] said that the days when all media will be distributed over the internet are not too far away. With that in mind, we’re hoping that this work will help to make our internet-streamed live video as good as it can possibly be.”