Sports fans are lucky enough to live in a time when they can watch almost any game instantaneously on their TV, computer or phone. But it turns out “instantaneous” isn’t as fast as we may think.
There’s a small delay — anywhere from fractions of a second to almost a minute — between when something happens on the field, and when viewers at home are able to see it. On top of this delay, some streaming platforms experience what’s called “audience drift,” which happens when people watching the same content on the same platform, but on different devices, are out of synch. This can account for more than a minute in delay between viewers.
While the delay may seem small, it’s not always insignificant. This can lead to potential spoilers, or worse. In the 2010s there were several instances of “courtsiding” — where people would electronically place bets from a sports venue in the moments before bookkeepers knew what happened.
In order to negate this delay, sports broadcasters, agencies and rights owners will have to revamp the technology behind sports streaming. That’s where companies like Phenix come in.
Phenix has created a technology platform that allows the companies that own sports or other video content to stream that content at real-time speeds. Using this technology, those companies can provide streaming with less than 500-millisecond end-to-end latency at a broadcast scale.
On Monday, the Chicago-based company announced the close of its $16.7 million Series B funding round. KB Partners, Verizon Ventures and Manheim Investments participated in the round, which brings Phenix’s valuation to $90 million. The company has raised about $40 million in total funding since its inception.
Phenix works with companies like Verizon, Disney, Sony, Stats, Racecourse Media Group and others in order to provide real-time access to their broadcast events. 2020 was a transformative year for these events, as the COVID-19 pandemic shut down countless large in-person events, forcing viewers to stream this content at home. As a result, viewers were subjected to the limitations of streaming, including latency.
“Latency comes in two forms,” Phenix’s chief marketing officer, Jed Corenthal, told Built In. “There’s the most obvious, which is the delay from the field to your device. But there’s also latency between viewers and between devices. Meaning if you and I were watching the same game, you might be 25 seconds behind the field, while I might be 45 seconds behind — so you’d see something before I see it.”
This has obvious implications for gambling and potential spoilers, but this latency could have other implications too. With the onset of streaming and the internet, content is becoming more interactive. Broadcast events will have quizzes or contests, people will go on social media and post about what’s happening and people will find other ways to engage with that content while it is happening. But if viewers aren’t in-synch with each other, this interactivity loses its purpose.
“In general, content is getting much more interactive in nature, allowing people to interact with each other and with the content itself,” Corenthal told Built In. “If you and I are watching the game and I’m 30 seconds behind you, you could send me a text that says, ‘Did you see that touchdown play?’And if I hadn’t seen it yet, it would ruin the experience. All these new interactive elements that are now happening — like trivia contests, polls and prediction games — makes any sort of delay not conducive for a positive experience.”
Phenix has built a handful of interactive features into its platform. It has a multi-camera angle feature that allows the viewer to watch different camera angles of the same moment that are totally in-synch. The company has also built a “virtual couch” feature, which allows viewers to stream content together from different devices but still be in-synch.
This new Series B funding will help Phenix build more of these features, and expand its company as a whole. The company says that it plans to use some of the new capital to hire across the board, which involves adding new roles to its engineering, product and marketing teams.
As streaming becomes the go-to method of watching any live event — from sports to the Oscars, game shows and more — dealing with latency issues will seem like an antiquated problem.
“In the quickly changing world of sports and entertainment, gamification, micro wagering and interactive fan experiences are necessary to compete and encourage digital engagement,” Kristina Serafim of Verizon Ventures said in a statement. “The team at Phenix is enabling this next evolution through its unparalleled real-time streaming video technology. We are proud to support their ongoing growth.”