We’ve now spent decades in the digital revolution, so why haven’t high-tech audio streams caught up with the old radio waves?
That was my question On GeekWire Podcast last weekAfter conducting an experiment inspired by the tradition of tuning theater broadcasters while watching a baseball game in the stands.
During one of the Seattle Mariners’ games at T-Mobile Park, I discovered that audio streams from various smartphone apps were at least 30 seconds behind the action in the field, sometimes even further.
That’s compared to a lag of just a few seconds when listening on a $22 battery-powered AM transistor radio.
The delay in the digital audio stream essentially made it unusable for play by pitch listening.
I offered my theories on the reasons for this, and heard from a bunch of people who either listened to the podcast or read the article last week.
One of them was a streaming media veteran Rob Green, who was group director of Microsoft’s digital media division from 1998 to 2006, a pivotal era for the industry. He went on to lead a variety of technology and digital media startups, including in his previous role as CEO of Seattle-based Abacast, which broadcasts internet radio stations.
Green sent me an email after seeing last week’s post: “Simply streaming requires buffers to function properly, hence the delays I experienced,” he wrote. He explained, “Broadcasting expects a perfect network, broadcasting predicts an imperfect network, and it is designed accordingly.”
I spoke to him to find out more. Hear his comments on this week’s episode.
On the topic of interconnecting terrestrial radio and the Internet, I received a great email from a Seattle tech industry veteran. Darren NakhudaHe is now a senior director of software engineering at self-driving technology company Waabi.
Just read your story about AM vs digital radio to listen to the ball game and have a funny story to share. In about 97 or 98, I worked for a web development company that operated the Mariners website, as well as the KIRO Radio website.
This was in the RealAudio days, and we wanted to provide live streaming of games on the web. So, what have we done? We found an old boom box, called it at 710 AM, and installed the headphone jack into the sound card on my workstation.
It worked like a champ, although every now and then someone would email the webmaster saying the stream was a bit flat and we had to shake the antenna or do some fine-tuning.
Ah, the good days…
And finally, here’s what Major League Baseball had to say about it via email.
MLB uses a third-party technology service provider to digitally implement in-house and road audio feed distribution for all 2,430 regular season, as well as post-season, games in [owned and operated] products. Given the technological limitations in the digital space, feed latency is inevitable. We have successfully worked with our partner to reduce response times and will continue to work on further improvements.
The part about continuing to work on future improvements is promising, but as MLB hinted and Rob Greene explained, it’s unlikely that the current setup will create the kind of true live audio gameplay scenario you’ve envisioned.
Who knows, maybe this is one of the problems that will be solved in the metaverse.