How Woods and Mickelson Showed Us That Live Streaming Is Still Hard

Miles Weaver
Miles Weaver Marketing Director

For several months the golfing world had been looking towards the showdown between two of its biggest names of the 2000s, Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods. Likely having seen the monstrous returns from Floyd Mayweather vs Conor McGregor in August in 2017, and from ‘The Fight of the Century’ when Mayweather fought Manny Pacquiao in 2015 (Mayweather won both contests), the nebulous collection of organisers of ‘The Match’ must have sensed that a large pile of sweet, sweet pay per view and live streaming moolah would have been waiting for them from too.

While the contest itself turned out to be largely forgettable, with Mickelson besting Woods after 22 uninspiring holes, the events surrounding its broadcast were anything but. Expecting to pull one of the largest audiences the game of golf had ever seen for a one off event – and being the first ever golfing event on pay-per-view – the expectations for enormous returns were high. Instead everything went to hell.

While details of exactly what occurred are a little sketchy, at some point early after tee off Bleacher Report Live started offering the stream of what was expected to be one of the most lucrative golfing events ever for free. People that were trying to buy the event on pay per view on platforms like Roku were told that it was not purchasable, even after it had started. Meanwhile, people that had pre-paid $19.99 for The Match on Bleacher Report Live were finding out that they couldn’t load the stream that was paid for.

What was going on? It appeared as though there had been a technical problem with Bleacher Report Live’s paid for stream (for viewers trying to purchase or view their purchased feed), and rather than risking a huge backlash from viewers that couldn’t watch the match that they’d paid for or were trying to pay for (and it was expected that this audience would be significant given that Bleacher were one of the key partners for the event), they decided to make the whole thing available on free stream. Meaning anyone could watch it, whether they’d paid for it or not.

Turner, who own Bleacher Report Live, have already started issuing refunds to the thousands of customers that paid for an event on a platform that countless others got for free, though are now facing pressure to offer refunds to viewers who purchased on traditional PPV platforms that they own, like DirecTV, as well. Comcast have also been crediting customers who purchased via their Xfinity platform. What was expected to be a huge win for Turner in promoting Bleacher Report Live as a new home for streaming live sports has turned into an extremely costly nightmare.

The whole scenario reminds us of a simple truism – live streaming to big audiences is hard. When the number of potential viewers is unknown, when the load on backend systems is pushed to and sometimes beyond its maximum, and when the technology to stream live to extremely large audiences is still relatively new, things can, and will, go wrong. There can be problems with any broadcast, but they seem to be all too frequent at the moment with live streaming, largely because for many newcomers, they underestimate the demand they will face.

WWE, have been streaming live events since 2014, and had many teething problems with their WWE Network service in the beginning. It has taken some not an inconsiderable amount of time to fix those streaming issues for events like the Royal Rumble and Wrestlemania, but now the service is stable and performing well. Formula 1 had a number of live disasters with its new live streaming app this year, and now has the off season to try and rectify that. The BBC had semi constant problems with the World Cup throughout the 2018 tournament, and have pledged to do better next time. For newcomers to jump in with both feet on such big events and expect for everything to go smoothly seems to be increasingly foolish, even with heavyweights like Turner behind them. The lesson should be, it seems, that you should learn to crawl before you try to sprint.

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Miles Weaver

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Miles Weaver Marketing Director
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