Progress Isn’t Linear: YouTube TV’s World Cup Flub Threatens Public’s Trust For Sports Streaming

As we’ve pointed out any number of times over the past few years, cord-cutting is a very real thing and represents a threat to the cable television industry as it exists today. One of the last threads from which that industry largely hangs is professional sports broadcasts, with cable network providers having traditionally locked up pro and college sports broadcast rights in long-term exclusive deals. That has slowly begun to change, as the leagues of the world have finally gotten on board with streaming providers big and small, connected to the cable industry or not. If this is adopted en masse, it puts disruptive change for cable on the horizon.

But progress isn’t linear and one of the threats to keeping this train on its tracks is the quality of the experience for users that dive into these sports streaming options. Especially early on in this kind of change, providers getting things right is extremely important, as reputations and public perception of the viability of sports streaming are more than somewhat on the line. And YouTube recently botched its broadcast of the World Cup match between England and Croatia.

In the middle of Wednesday’s World Cup semifinal match between England and Croatia, YouTube’s live TV service suffered an unfortunately-timed outage (not unlike ones we’ve seen from Sling or Hulu). Naturally, it enraged YouTube TV subscribers who had picked up the service specifically to catch live broadcasts like that game, and now it’s offering an apology in the form of a credit.

There are several unfortunate factors at play for why this specific screw-up is worse for the reputation of sports streaming than it might have been otherwise. We can start with the most obvious factor: this is YouTube we’re talking about. Look, there are plenty of good streaming service providers out there, but YouTube is the king of them, by reputation if not by fact. Having that name tied to this screw up is likely to register with the public as an indication that streaming for sports may not be ready for prime time.

The second factor: this was the World Cup we’re talking about. The popularity of this event, and its related viewership, is immense. The public knows that. Any streaming service for World Cup broadcasts has to know that its service is going to be heavily trafficked and ought to have its shit in order to accommodate the event’s popularity. Heavy viewerships shouldn’t be a surprise and, whatever the actual cause of YouTube’s interruption, it will be assumed by most that viewership load played a factor.

Now, as the post notes, streaming interruptions have happened before and they will happen again. Much of the reaction to what I outlined above will be at least in part unfair. But if you’re rooting for sports streaming to erupt in popularity, or if you’re a streaming provider trying to get more leagues on board, this kind of a screw up was about as bad in terms of timing as it gets.

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