Hardware

Streaming the football? How far will you lag behind ‘live’?

Delays live TV
Are you always stuck a few seconds back in the football past? Here's why

Picture the scene: you pull on your Gareth Southgate waistcoat, take a Jamie Vardy-inspired WKD out of the fridge and settle down in front of the England game. Suddenly, the rest of the street erupts in celebration as Harry Kane slots home an early goal – without you. So how long is the delay on Freeview, Sky and the like, and why does it happen?

The delay on Freeview, Sky TV and online streaming services will vary from place to place, and depend on your internet speed, but it can range from a few milliseconds to minutes.

The reasons for the delay are relatively simple: digital TV signals (such as Freeview) have to be encoded and decoded before you see a picture, which leads to a small gap.

If you’re a Sky or Freesat customer, the problem is compounded by the fact that the signals have to endure a 72,000km round-trip to the satellite in space. That adds around three seconds.

For video delivered over broadband, you’re reliant on everything from latency to overstretched demand to content delivery networks. Plus the speed of your local service and the device you’re using. Here, for example, is a video showing the ten-second delay when watching a US Open match in the stadium and on-screen.

Streaming delays for big events such as World Cup matches, where millions of people are trying to watch the streams simultaneously are even longer, perhaps even stretching into minutes. Fans watching the England vs Columbia game in the week reported that ITV’s streams were around a minute and a half behind the TV broadcasts.

If you’re planning to sit down and watch the BBC live steam for today’s match with Sweden, you can expect to be at least 20 seconds behind the live TV action, according to the tech gurus at BBC Sport.

All this is a long-winded way of saying it’s difficult to give a definitive answer to how long the delay is – you’ll probably get variations on different days – but as a very rough guide:

  • Analogue radio (eg FM, not DAB), almost instant transmission
  • Freeview – a second or two delay
  • Sky/Freesat – a few seconds
  • Streaming – anywhere from a few seconds behind to a couple of minutes

So how do you stay as “live” as possible?

Your best bet, if you can stomach it, is to switch on an old-fashioned analogue FM radio (all TV broadcasts are now digital in the UK) or Freeview/Sky if you’re watching on television. The other options? Either invest in double-glazing so you can’t hear the neighbours setting off fireworks or head down to the pub, where everyone will be in the same boat. It’s a tough choice…

 READ NEXT: How do I cut my Sky bill?

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About the author

Max Figgett

Max has written for numerous websites and magazines over the years. Whether it’s about ancient hardware or software secrets, no Big Tech Question is too obscure for him to tackle.

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