[REPORT] How time delays in live streaming apps affect user experience Based on in-depth research & an infographic by Wowza

live streaming apps user experience

Photo credit: Harry Thomas Photography via Visual Hunt

What happens when there’s an additional 500 millisecond delay in a live streaming game? Users are twice as likely to abandon.

As a hardcore FPS (first-person shooter) gamer, I can tell you that this is no exaggeration. I don’t want some 15-year old noob handing me my ass, simply because of a time delay.

Time delay (or “latency”, in technical terms) affects all kinds of mobile experiences that rely on live streamed content.

Wowza, the streaming engine that powers about 25% of all online video streaming, decided to dig into the user experience of live streaming apps.

Chris Michaels, Wowza’s communications director, has written a performance report on the highest-profile live streaming providers, based on 2 key metrics:

  1. Time to first frame (TTFF)—the amount of time it takes for content to load, in the first instance

  2. End-to-end latency (E2E)—the time between an action happening and its being displayed on viewers’ screens

Wowza assessed the performance of user-generated content (UGC) apps, which rely on live streaming, as each was trialled 15 times across:

  • Different American locations
  • Different connection speeds
  • Different iOS and Android devices

Chris got in touch this week and kindly let me read the full, yet-to-be published 19-page report. So I’m summarising here key findings and insights from the study.

I’m also sharing a swanky infographic showing which UGC live streaming app provides the best UX, when it comes to TTFF and E2E. The apps assessed include, among others:

  • Instagram
  • Facebook
  • Periscope

You can continue reading the article below the infographic.

Huge numbers of concurrent viewers can harm UX (but an artificial delay can help it)

You’ve probably noticed a live stream become jumpy (or “laggy”, in geekspeak) as more people joined in.

Considering the technical challenges of beaming large packets of information to large numbers of people, at the same time, in real time… this isn’t surprising.

So, if you’re gonna build a live-streaming feature into an experience to be enjoyed en masse, you may want to introduce an artificial time delay—for everyone.

This was Periscope’s solution to live streams becoming overloaded. Wowza’s report notes that the company introduces “a false delay of up to 10 seconds when the number of viewers for a piece of content surpasses a numerical threshold (e.g. 1000 viewers)”.

This allows:

  • All users to have a consistent experience (so some aren’t 13 minutes into a stream, while others are only 2 minutes in)

  • Real-time user interaction to function smoothly (so users who are lagging behind on a stream aren’t seeing reactions to events they have yet to experience)

This may represent a bizarre scenario where deliberately sub-optimal design is good for UX.

But this approach works only if the content being streamed does not require real-time, two-way feedback. For example, if real-time interaction between viewer and broadcaster is necessary for an authentic experience, then a false delay will harm user experience.

When the user experience is tied to real life, low latency is key

As cited in the Wowza study, “studies show consumers now trust UGC more than any other type of media.”

This is probably why user-generated content drives some of the most popular live-streaming experiences:

  1. Ephemeral live streams (e.g. Snapchat)
  2. Influencer marketing (e.g. on Instagram)
  3. Live streams and live-to-video-on-demand (e.g. Facebook Live)

Often, the special sauce is the feeling that we’re interacting with people or things we love, in near-real time. It’s like… we’re there.

Adi Sideman, Founder and CEO of YouNow (which led the pack in Wowza’s report), told TechCrunch that although the company archives live video streams when they’re finished, “nobody watches live stream archives.”

On top of this, it’s often not just about streams being live (i.e. seeing something while it’s happening)—it’s also about streams feeling as close to real-time as possible (i.e. having each experience in the same moment everybody else does).

For example, with YouNow, engagement is key—streamers make money directly off viewer interactions. The highest-performing streamers have earned more than $1 million to date.

Users watching streams will contribute only if they’re having highly interactive and responsive interactions with the streamer—meaning videos have to load quickly and play at high quality.

It doesn’t feel particularly “interactive” if your hero reacts to your interactions with a 10-second delay.

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Timi is a London-based copywriter and full-time marketing sceptic – there are now more unvalidated opinions out there than ever.

He became a UX testing enthusiast after seeing its power while working at TUI – the world’s largest travel, leisure and tourism company. He then joined WhatUsersDo to sharpen his UX knowledge and work side-by-side with the field’s best and brightest.

2 Responses to “[REPORT] How time delays in live streaming apps affect user experience

  • Facebook Live straight away hits the roof. Its super easy to use by anyone and works with existing audience that we have built in our newsfeed. However, i love periscope due to its unique style of audience collection.


    • Timi Olotu
      2 years ago

      Thanks for stopping by, Robin.

      I’ve never used Facebook Live… but I have used Periscope (which I found refreshingly easy) and Snapchat.

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