NBC Failed With Their Super Bowl Webcast, But Wants Us To Believe It Was A Success

NBC completely failed in their execution of streaming Sunday's Super Bowl on the web, yet they want us to believe that it was an engaging and successful webcast. Do they think we're stupid? Instead of coming clean and saying they had technical issues, especially with the quality of the video and re-buffering, the company is trying to blame these issues on the "last mile" networks and are pointing the finger at someone else. NBC should know better than this and should be ashamed of themselves.

Tim Siglin has a great article at StreamingMedia.com that re-caps all of the problems with the webcast, so I don't need to repeat a lot of what he said, go read his article. What I will add to Tim's piece is that NBC does not get that the success of any webcast is judged by the message you deliver, the experience you provide, and how you engage the user – not simply how many streams you deliver. Would you rather reach a lot of people with a poor experience or fewer people with a good experience that keeps them engaged longer?

NBC was quick to say how many streams they got, but didn't say how many simultaneous streams they did. Most webcasts are measured by simultaneous streams, so why isn't NBC giving out that number? They called the event a record and they are quoted on news sites as saying things like, the event “exceeded our expectations in every way," and that it was a, "tremendous success". Exceed their expectations? If poor quality video with bad re-buffering is something that "exceed their expectations", I'd hate to see how low they set the bar internally.

If the quality issues were as a result of the last mile like NBC claims, why were users like me able to stream videos from other sites with perfect video quality during the Super Bowl webcast, but not from NBC directly? That's such a cop-out on NBC's part and any viewer who played videos from others sites during the same time could easily see it wasn't a last mile issue. In addition, while NBC isn't saying what bitrates the Super Bowl was encoded for, it looks like the average bitrate was about 2Mbps. So how could I stream clips at twice this quality from other websites during the Super Bowl if there were last mile issues? Of course I couldn't, but I guess NBC thinks we won't notice that.

All NBC had to do was come clean and say they had issues, they screwed up and they have learned for next time. While failure is no good, at least no one could claim that they aren't in touch with reality. Also, I find it very strange that as I write this post, Akamai is doing their quarterly earnings call and has referenced the Super Bowl webcast as an example of a "great experience", when it was actually a very poor experience. Akamai was the CDN provider for the online webcast, so I am not surprised they are also saying the same thing as NBC since that's their customer.

If the webcast was such a "success" and was a good quality experience like both companies suggest, why isn't NBC or Akamai releasing any video quality assurance data from a third party like Conviva? Myself and others can show, by example, all the issues we had with the webcast, so where's NBC's data to show it was a last mile issue? Their data doesn't exist.

In Tim's article he says "it's disingenuous for NBC to blame last mile issues" and I'd say it's even worse than that. Streaming media technology is not new, it's not cutting-edge and we've had companies webcasting live events, with success, for over 15 years. So for NBC to encode such a low quality video to begin with, and then try to blame the last mile networks for video quality and buffering problems, someone should hold these guys accountable. So nice try NBC, but there are plenty of us who are not buying it.

  • Bryce

    When I tuned it i was getting, in terms of internet video, near HD quality. Not nearly 720p quality I get watching YouTube video, but much better than any other standard def video you see around the web. Besides it being a few minutes behind I think it looked incredible with a very smooth playback so maybe you just need a better internet connection. Hats off to them for pulling it off.

  • Bryce, what’s interesting—at least from the anecdotals that I gathered before the story—is that the FiOS customers, the ones with the “better internet connection” as you call it, appear to have had significant issues.
    To say someone should get a better internet connection is akin to telling someone with an old analog TV and rabbit ears that they need to get a longer wire on their antenna; sure it would work if we still had analog connections, but if the transmission delivery is flawed (or incompatible in the case of someone with an analog TV/rabbit ears) then the size of your pipe doesn’t matter…
    http://www.streamingmedia.com/Articles/Editorial/Featured-Articles/Super-Bowl-Streaming-Fail-80427.aspx —the original article—has commenters that back the account that big fast pipes did NOT equate to great quality.
    Curious what geography, theoretical throughput and service provider you use, as I’m gathering further information from those who say they had a good or bad experience.

  • John Robb

    Was Akamai the sole CDN for this event? Was their a redundant network in place?

  • When I first connected to the stream about a half-hour before game time, I was very glad it wasn’t going to be my only way of watching. Both on my AT&T terrestrial DSL connection (6-8mbps) and my Verizon LTE cellular connection (10-12mbps) it was practically unwatchable. Stalling and switching to audio only, then completely gone. Each refresh brought a new pre-roll and even that didn’t play half the time.
    Dan, as you mentioned, it’s 15 years later and still hard to get right . . .

  • Igor

    I had a great near-hd quality. I an on Comcast cable.