CBS’s Grammy stream failures are another cautionary tale for live online video

The Grammys are just the latest in a long line of live events set back by streaming problems.

Grammy Awards
Credit: CBS

Despite all the good that streaming video has done for television, it continues to be finicky for large-scale, live events.

Last night’s Grammy Awards were just the latest example. As several other sites have documented, complaints about the CBS All Access live stream were flooding onto Twitter even before the event began. Instead of getting the award show, users got blank screens and endlessly spinning wheels.

CBS eventually responded, blaming a location-checking issue that affected a small percentage of users, though some users continued to complain even after the network said it had resolved its problems. After failing to get the live stream, some users even struggled to connect with their All Access account pages to cancel their subscriptions.

This is hardly the first case of a live stream gone wrong. As Phillip Swann at TVPredictions points out, problems also emerged during this year’s Super Bowl, last year’s Academy Awards, and NCAA Basketball’s March Madness tournament. Big TV season premieres and finales have also buckled under pressure in the past.

To be clear, these sorts of issues don’t necessarily affect everyone. Whenever an event draws complaints, you’re just as likely to hear rebuttals from people who’ve had no trouble at all. The problem is that you never know which camp you’re going to fall into.

Some analysts, such as Frost and Sullivan’s Dan Rayburn, have been saying this for years, but streaming just isn’t as reliable on the massive scale—think tens of millions of users—at which cable TV currently operates. While some on-demand streaming services are doing a decent job keeping up with user growth—Netflix, for instance, streamed a combined 42.5 billion hours last year and is generally reliable—live events act as a kind of reality check. Suddenly, there are upwards of a million people demanding access to the same resources, and a lot of potential points of failure.

This is all worth keeping in mind the next time a major TV network promises live streaming coverage of a major event. In lieu of cable TV, consider a plain old antenna as your best option. Otherwise, don’t be surprised if you’re among the people venting frustrations on Twitter.

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