How will low latency streaming impact entertainment in 2021 and beyond?

Blog Post by Charlie Kraus, Senior Product Marketing Manager

February 25, 2021

According to Nielsen data, YouTube streaming nearly doubled in 2020, from 15 billion minutes in April 2019 to 32 billion in April 20201. Many low latency streaming platforms experienced similar jumps in viewership due to quarantines, lockdowns, and stay-at-home orders across the globe.

Of course, 2021 promises a COVID-19 vaccine, with major vaccine producers projecting vaccinations for 2.6 billion to 3.1 billion people2 by the end of the year. And with vaccination, we're all hoping for a return to normal—or something like it. That could mean a decrease in screen time. However, at least in the U.S., Dr. Anthony Fauci predicts3 we likely won't see a return to anything like "normal" before 2022.

Whatever the official end date for the COVID-19 pandemic, one thing remains true: 2020 has served as an ample testing ground for entertainment companies. With a global audience going online for much of their entertainment needs, smart companies will use lessons learned in 2020 for long term strategies. And with large in-person events likely off the table for the foreseeable future, interactive live streaming is an increasingly compelling way to capture more viewers. The key to this becoming a reality is low-latency live streaming.

Why does low latency matter?

Depending on your streaming needs and your viewers' connections, the lag time between your live event and when a viewer sees it could hover around 30–45 seconds with typical HLS and DASH delivery.

In 2019, about 75% of broadcasters had the capability to stream events with latency between 10 and 45 seconds4. Low-latency live streaming means a delay of five seconds or less for viewers. And ultra-low latency allows viewers to stream an event in real-time.

With COVID-19 limiting—or eliminating—in-person events, low- and ultra-low latency live streaming has given viewers the opportunity to feel like they're actually attending virtual events. Small or nonexistent lag times give them the capability to have near real-time reactions or interactions with other viewers.

Ultimately, low-latency live streaming gives entertainment companies the opportunity to create new experiences for viewers. And with real-time viewing capabilities, viewers can engage and interact with content and media in new exciting ways.

How will low-latency live streaming change entertainment in 2021 and beyond?

So what do all these possibilities mean for entertainment at large? And how might we see the opportunities offered by low latency play out in 2021? These four trends are already starting to emerge.

1. Fewer Spoilers

Say, for example, that someone decides to tune into a football game at home and their friend manages to snag tickets. With average latency capabilities, the friend at the game will see everything happen about 30 seconds before their friend who's watching from home. Low-latency streaming means the friend at the game won't text and spoil the Hail Mary pass resulting in a winning touchdown for their friend at home.

2. Increased need to engage viewers on multiple platforms—and multiple screens—simultaneously

Using two devices at once isn't limited to watching an event and messaging a friend about it, as with our football game example. As entertainment consumers, we can use practically all of our devices to access nearly unlimited forms of entertainment. That means that, even as broadcasters hope to catch people's attention with live-streamed events, they'll have to compete—simultaneously—with everything happening on all of our other screens.

A study of Snapchat usage data5 during the 2020 Superbowl, showed that viewers watched the game on one screen while simultaneously using the Snapchat platform to share reactions to the game, stream a watch party, or view updates on the game from other users. As more exciting things happened in the game, Snapchat usage spiked dramatically. Instead of focusing on the exciting event in front of them, viewers wanted to share that moment with other people.

This competition for viewer attention across multiple screens is nothing new. In 2019, Nielsen data indicated that at least 88% of Americans used a second device while watching TV6 Low-latency live streaming, however, means entertainment companies have the opportunity—like the spoiler discussion—to deliver streams on those other devices in real-time, so everyone is seeing the action at the same time, making sharing reactions easier.

3. Create more engaging experiences

One way to increase viewer engagement is to offer interactive experiences that allow them to control or influence content. Low-latency live streaming allows users to interact with content practically in real time. These near-instantaneous interactions help give users more control over how they view and experience content.

Continuing with the football game example, an at-home viewer can stream the game and use an augmented reality-powered (AR) interface to display player stats over the game as it happens. Instead of using another screen to look up these stats, a viewer can absorb both live gameplay and additional content. And as low-latency 5G connections become the norm, broadcasters can equip stadiums with 5G-powered equipment that streams in real time. FC Barcelon's Camp Nou, for example, plans to give viewers the option to see a game from different angles, accessible from multiple 360-degree cameras streaming the game for fans at home.

But user-controlled content isn't limited to sporting events. A content creator equipped with low-latency live streaming capabilities can stream a video from their couch and allow real-time viewers to weigh in on what's happening.

Lightning-speed interactions could give consumers a chance to influence the content they're watching as it's being filmed. Real-time live streaming applications could range from a choose-your-own-adventure movie impacted by millions of viewers, or a game show or trivia app that allows thousands of contestants to "buzz in" from all over the globe.

4. This is just the beginning

Sub-second latency live streaming based on WebRTC technology is available now, opening the door to many exciting new viewing experiences. Right now, there are platforms that allow two musicians to jam out together with their respective instruments with sub-second latency. We are getting close to being able to have an entire concert experience without anyone needing to leave their homes.Viewers can even customize their experience of a show, by adding "louder guitars, quieter vocals," or any other number of audio adjustments. That means that one concert could create millions of customized concerts for listeners around the globe.

Are you ready to deliver low-latency streaming experiences to consumers at scale?

Media and entertainment platforms can now differentiate themselves and engage their viewers in ways never before possible. There are already multiple options for delivering low latency streams that match the latency of broadcast TV, even sub-second streaming that can incorporate interactive data for a more social viewing experience. 2021 can (and should) be a year of laying the foundation for implementing these new technologies.

Creating live entertainment experiences that not only have no lag time but also include interactive and engaging options for viewers means you'll need to create an infrastructure that supports low-latency content delivery to people across the globe.

Or you could partner with someone who has already built that infrastructure for you.

Limelight's Realtime Streaming service uses the latest technology to help you deliver content to users with sub-second (that's ultra-low latency) video delivery. Learn more about how Limelight's streaming content delivery network can help you deliver content with little to no lag time—and offer the types of content that keep users coming back for more.



  • 1https://www.silive.com/coronavirus/2020/04/youtube-viewership-skyrockets-amid-the-coronavirus-pandemic.html
  • 2https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-03370-6
  • 3https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2020/12/anthony-fauci-offers-a-timeline-for-ending-covid-19-pandemic/
  • 4https://www.wowza.com/blog/what-is-low-latency-and-who-needs-it
  • 5https://forbusiness.snapchat.com/blog/nfl-on-snapchat-2020
  • 6https://arstechnica.com/gaming/2019/12/88-of-americans-use-a-second-screen-while-watching-tv-why/#:~:text=According%20to%20data%20from%20Nielsen,about%20content%20they%20are%20watching.%22