Baseball fans, particularly those in the vicinity of New York and St. Louis, learned the treacheries of one of the sports betting industry’s biggest headaches a couple of weeks ago: latency.
When Cardinals slugger Albert Pujols hit his 699th and 700th career home runs on Sept. 23 in Los Angeles, baseball fans’ only way to watch the spectacle was by streaming it through Apple TV+. Coincidentally, the other game on Apple TV+ that night was the Yankees vs. the Boston Red Sox in the Bronx, with Aaron Judge going for his 61st home run of the season to tie Roger Maris, a team record that’s practically sacred around Yankee Stadium.
In some cases, fans watching at home heard about Pujols’ accomplishment (Judge went homerless) via social media or from a text or call from a buddy before they actually saw it. Why? Because in many cases they were nearly a minute behind the action.
The issue of latency has also arisen during Thursday Night Football contests, which are streamed exclusively on Amazon Prime. As more and more sporting events move to streaming only – and as more and more sports fans cut the cord from traditional cable – latency will become a bigger problem in the sports betting industry, especially as micro-betting becomes more popular.
“If you’re a bettor, what you don’t want is someone else to have an advantage over you. You want everybody playing on an even playing field,” said Jed Corenthal, chief marketing officer at Phenix Real-Time Solutions. “By being able to stream events within half a second of when the plays occur, it eliminates what’s called courtsiding. It really helps from the integrity side of it, too.”
What is latency and why is it a problem?
A player sitting at a game has an inherent advantage over one watching it at home, since latency can severely limit the amount of time the second player has to identify and wager on the outcome of the next at-bat, the next play, or the next possession.
The sport of jai alai was nearly extinct in the U.S. five years ago before a South Florida visionary named Scott Savin reimagined it at Magic City Casino, where the sport continues its quest to stay alive on U.S. soil. Though Magic City’s jai alai still hasn’t turned a profit, a scattering of fans across the world can watch it on better streaming technology than the 17.1 million viewers who see a typical NFL game on Sunday.
That’s even if they’re not streaming the football game. Cable broadcasts themselves are subject to a delay of at least six seconds to ensure the show remains family-friendly, while jai alai is streamed live to the BetRivers sportsbooks with a half-second delay due to a partnership between Rush Street Interactive — BetRivers’ parent company — and Corenthal’s Phenix group.
Eventually, the uproar over latency could force major media companies, as well as gambling operators, to change the way they deliver content to viewers.
Gambling industry drives changes
There are two basic types of streaming technology. The one used by most broadcasters uses HTTP Live Streaming (HLS), which was developed by Apple two decades ago and breaks down video into shorter snippets before reassembling them, causing latency of up to a minute.
The other is WebRTC streaming, which was developed by Google 11 years ago and has virtually no latency. The problem is that it was developed for video chats and didn’t have the scalability to reach wide audiences.
Phenix’s proprietary technology allows it to scale WebRTC streaming while keeping latency to about half-a-second. Corenthal said the company streamed the Cheltenham Festival, a major horse race in the U.K., to more than 500,000 streamers at home, riding the tube, or wherever else they happened to be. The company’s main contract is to stream U.K. and Irish dog and horse racing globally.
“I think everyone will ultimately want to stream in real time,” Corenthal said. “We’re starting to see an uproar already, but once it starts to hit pretty significant levels and once betting becomes national, say in 40 or 45 states give or take, it’s going to become less regional and more national and the need to have streams closer to the action is going to be mandatory. People are considering sports in entirely different ways and they’re asking, ‘Why should I be 30 to 50 seconds behind the field of play? I don’t have to be.’”