What is audience drift (and why should I care)?

Have you ever been watching a "live" sports broadcast, only to hear your neighbors cheering before you've even seen the play? If so, you've been a victim of drift.

Drift is the time difference between the viewers of the fastest stream and the slowest stream. For example, if you saw a punt happen at 2:32:30, and your friend watching the same game on the same service saw it happen at 2:33:30, the drift between you is one minute.

With traditional over-the-air broadcasting, everyone in an area receives the same signal at the same time, and ends up seeing the broadcast content at the same instant. However, with streaming technology, each user experiences a unique amount of delay between the time at which an event occurred and the time at which the viewer saw it. This happens because there are differences in the content's path through the internet, so it even occurs when viewers are using the same app to watch the game. 

Variations in the timing of the live streaming delay can be caused by things like high traffic on servers, geographic location, buffering in the streaming player, and other "last-mile" factors. For example, the yellow path in the diagram below goes through twice as many nodes as the red path. Each node can cause a different amount of delay. Once a viewer has fallen behind after a buffering event, they do not catch up in the stream and remain further behind their neighbors.


Using live streaming platform technology such as HLS and DASH, the audience drift, or time between the viewers closest and furthest away from real-time, can be well over a minute based on our most recent Super Bowl latency study. With so much drift within the audience, spoilers abound.

As irritating as drift can be, it is more than just an annoyance. Even two or three seconds of drift prevents conversations between viewers; other interactive elements like trivia games and watch parties are impossible to manage with any drift. For bettors, drift means fewer bets and a less engaging experience.

A lack of audience synchronization puts bettors on an uneven playing field. To take an example from our most recent latency study, two users of the FOX Sports app could be viewing events that happened more than one minute apart. It would be unfair to ask the viewer of the slower stream to place in-game bets based on the action on the field or as seen by the viewer of the faster stream, as they could be asked to bet on an extra point kick before even seeing the touchdown. The betting also can't be based on when the viewer sees the plays in the app as that opens the system to courtsiding. Audience synchronization is one key to maintaining fairness for in-game wagering.

The Phenix architecture reduces the number of nodes used in transferring the content. In the diagram below, content is moved directly from Point of Presence (PoP) A, which is the closest to the producer, to PoP B, which is closest to the viewer. 

In addition to architecture designed from the ground up for real-time streaming, our patented SyncWatch™ technology prevents drift and ensures a fully-synchronized viewing experience across all devices to audiences anywhere in the world. With Phenix, everyone sees the content at the same time, as compared to typical streaming broadcasts where this difference can be a minute or more. No more spoilers and no more drift to ruin the viewing experience.

Synchronizing the audience’s viewing experience fosters connection and powers interactivity among audience members, allowing Phenix to support interactive experiences such as watch parties and gaming.