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Facebook’s debate night livestream was faster than cable

Democratic presidential nominee former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton speaks during the third U.S. presidential debate at the Thomas & Mack Center on October 19, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Image: Win McNamee/Getty Images

It’s up for discussion who won the final debate of the election, but there was a clear winner Wednesday in the battle of live-streaming services.

Facebook had the lowest latency, even trumping the satellite and cable for some viewers. The results came from a study by employees of Wowza Media Systems, a media streaming service provider, who tracked the delay of streaming services across devices and compared them back to the baseline of radio.

The study included six employees based in Charlottesville, Virginia; San Francisco; Denver; Miami; and Sacramento who used computers and phones for the services where applicable.

Wowza employees recorded latency for Twitter, Bloomberg, Facebook,,,, YouTube NBC, YouTube PBS News and Fox News.

Facebook was delivering its stream at a 13-second delay, on average, compared to radio. But for some viewers it was in the single digits at 7 seconds, which made it the fastest option. The fastest feed, on average, was cable at 12 seconds. Satellite was 20 seconds on average. came in fourth at 27 seconds. The slowest stream was Bloomberg at 56 seconds.

That disparity should worry traditional broadcast networks. Watching the debate on Facebook meant that a viewer not only did not have to own a TV and pay for cable, they also had the fastest stream accompanied by real-time commentary and reactions.

“We all did a double take when we saw the results coming. All fairly surprised that it was beating our cable signals,” Anthony Lazaro, senior director of digital marketing and business intelligence at Wowza, told Mashable.

With six participants, the study was not exhaustive. The patterns were nearly identical for each submission, however.

“With all else being equal, aren’t you always going to choose the faster stream?”

The results should not be surprising given how Facebook engineered its live video experience. As Facebook revealed in a blog post in December, the team wrote its own code instead of outsourcing to a third-party service.

Facebook’s livestream setup isn’t that different from what other companies use. Cable systems, however, tend to outsource livestreaming to content delivery networks (CDNs) that are easy to integrate and reliable but also relatively slow.

And it’s quite unlike Twitter who uses BAMTech to power its livestreams. That tech, owned by Major League Baseball, will cut streams into chunks, adding a natural latency.

That creates an unfortunately awkward user experience as Twitter bets its future on its ability to tie real-time commentary with live video.

Despite Facebook’s dominance in speed, one aspect the network has yet to master is how to direct people to the live videos. With Facebook’s trending topics operating without human editors and editorial judgment, it isn’t always the case a live video will be accessible from the homepage.

Facebook also received an endorsement from Trump. The Republican nominee chose to host his own post-debate show on Facebook in what could be a test of his rumored Trump TV network.

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