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Super Bowl delay is real — here’s how to avoid it

There’s a phenomenon with the modern Super Bowl — and of all live sports today — that our parents never had to deal with. And it’s just one of those things that comes with modern digital entertainment.

In other words, the Super Bowl delay is real.

If you’ve ever lived in a house insane enough to have more than a couple of ways to watch live television, you might well have experienced this. You’ve got the game on — and this is true whether it’s football or soccer or whatever — in one room, only to find that a TV in another room is a good minute or so behind. Maybe you checked Twitter or got a notification from a friend that a big play happened. Or maybe you just heard the cheers (or groans) from the other room. It’s nobody’s fault, really — it’s just the way things work these days.

So what gives? And how can you avoid the Super Bowl delay?

Super Bowl hub on Peacock.
Phil Nickinson/Digital Trends

Don’t stream the Super Bowl

When it comes to watching live sports, you want to take the path of least resistance. And, unfortunately, that path tends to be the slowest when it comes to streaming services.

The oversimplified version is that services like Hulu With Live TV or YouTube TV take your local broadcast affiliate, run it through their pipes and servers, and then feed it back to your phone or TV or whatever you’re watching on. And unlike cable or broadcast, both of which take a more direct route (especially the latter), this takes time. There’s time for the stream to buffer so that you’ve got a smooth, continuous feed. And there’s the time for the service just to do its thing. Video — particularly live video — takes a lot of data. And when you’re talking about thousands and thousands of people moving the same data around, delays happen.

The most popular way to avoid the Super Bowl delay is going to be with cable TV. That’s still the default method for most folks, even as more and more switch to streaming services.

Cable TV and over-the-air antennas will still ensure you can watch the Super Bowl as close to real-time as possible.

Watch the Super Bowl with an antenna

Probably the closest you can get to true real time will be with an over-the-air antenna. Yes, it’s old-school. And, yes, it absolutely still works. In fact, it works better than ever. It’s also a relatively inexpensive way to watch your local broadcast affiliates.

It’s also extremely affordable. A good antenna can be had for less than $100, and it’s a one-time purchase.

The most important part of the whole antenna process is the setup. You need to know the direction of your local broadcast affiliates. If they’re to your west, point the antenna to the west. East to east, etc. You want your antenna to be outdoors, if possible, and the higher the better.

Of course, you’ll have to balance that with the ability to run a cable to the television you actually want to watch on. (We said it was cheap, not that it was particularly easy.)

After that, scan for channels. Just make sure you get NBC, and you’re good to go.

Is Super Bowl delay a big deal?

This part’s subjective. There’s a decent chance that if all the devices in your home are watching a live event the same way, with the same service, any perceived delay isn’t that big a deal. Where it might become a little annoying is if you’re the sort who watches a game or other live event while also doomscrolling Twitter, where you’ll quickly realize folks are reacting to things that, in your world, haven’t quite happened yet.

Phenix Super Bowl delay graph.

Or due to the wonders of the internet, it’s still possible to have a bit of a discrepancy between devices even if they’re using the same service, but in different ways. Watching a game on Apple TV over Ethernet can end up with a bit of a delta between what’s “live,” if another TV within earshot is doing so over Wi-Fi. Or maybe it’s just that the streams to the devices themselves don’t quite match up — this sometimes happens if I’m watching the Premier League on the TV in the living room while it’s also on in the kitchen via a Nest Hub.

Streaming tech company Phenix, which handles back-end stuff and competes directly against the WebRTC streaming video standard, has been pitching graphs that show the digital lag. While it’s easy to stipulate that closer to real time is always better than not, all of the streaming services were within 10 seconds of each other, and all were close to a minute behind. While that’s not great, at least it’s consistent.

These are, as they say, First World Problems. They’re silly to complain about, but that doesn’t mean they’re not real. Just how annoying they may be is up to you.

But regardless, there are ways around the delay.

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Phil Nickinson
Section Editor, Audio/Video
Phil spent the 2000s making newspapers with the Pensacola (Fla.) News Journal, the 2010s with Android Central and then the…
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