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YouTube NFL outage: Should Google give refunds or credits?

An error message for the NFL on YouTube and YouTube TV
The error message seen on October 29, 2023, alerting NFL fans to what they already knew — games weren’t streaming well. Phil Nickinson / Digital Trends

The good news is we — by which I mean Google, YouTube, and YouTube TV — made it halfway through the season without any real sort of major technical hiccup as the exclusive home of NFL Sunday Ticket. But on October 29, in the thick of Week 8 (out of 17), problems did arise.

It was apparent fairly early into Sunday’s 1 p.m. games that something was amiss. Buffering problems abounded. Lag was a real thing. Resolution and bitrate dropped to unacceptable levels. And Google, for its part, noted the issues on social media, as well as on a help page. “If you’re experiencing buffering issues on YouTube our team is aware and working on a fix,” the statement said on Twitter. “YouTube TV or NFL Sunday Ticket may also be impacted. We’ll follow up here once this has been resolved.”

A day later, the statement (which didn’t include that last sentence) was removed from the help page. And it didn’t appear that the @TeamYouTube Twitter account ever actually followed up. (Note to Google and YouTube: It’s probably time to have a presence on Threads.) But plenty of unhappy subscribers followed up on their own, asking if there would be any sort of refund or credit for the outage. And to be clear, it wasn’t a total outage. Just major issues.

Crediting subscribers for an outage isn’t unheard of. YouTube TV in 2018 issued credits for an outage during a semifinal game in the FIFA Men’s World Cup, with subscribers getting about $10 off their next bill.

That sort of scheme is a little more complicated this time around. For one, it didn’t appear that the outage was limited to NFL Sunday Ticket, which requires a premium subscription of several hundred dollars a year. Those who only subscribe to YouTube TV and were receiving broadcast games also were affected, and it wasn’t just a single game that was unwatchable. (And things appeared to have settled down by the evening’s game.)

So what’s that worth? Another $10 or so off your next bill for YouTube TV subscribers? Or should NFL Sunday Ticket subscribers get credit for one full Sunday? Depending on what you paid, that could be anywhere from around $17, all the way to $29. Certainly, nobody who struggled to watch a game would turn down a bit of free money. But you can understand Google not being in a rush to try to figure out who it owes what.

And it’s worth noting that it doesn’t appear that Google is actually required to do anything. A quick trip through the NFL Sunday Ticket terms and conditions pretty much spells out that you pay for the service, and that’s that. No clauses for compensation for an outage. “Payments for NFL Sunday Ticket subscriptions are non-refundable, in whole and/or in part,” it reads. “Once your payment method has been charged for a season, you will not be able to get a refund for that season.”

Google should offer an apology at the very least. Streaming problems will, unfortunately, happen on occasion. Even if compensation isn’t in order, an explanation certainly is. We’ve reached out to Google to see if there’s any word on what happened, and if any compensation is coming.

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Phil Nickinson
Section Editor, Audio/Video
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