Broadcast rights for the big game have fallen to Fox in 2023, and the company has made it surprisingly easy to tune in. You don’t even need a TV subscription — the company will live-stream the Super Bowl free on FoxSports.com and in its companion app.
But consider this your friendly annual reminder: If you’re streaming the game through Fox, Hulu, Fubo, DirecTV Stream, YouTube TV or any other comparable service this year, you’re going to be behind the action at least a little. Phenix, a streaming-services company that tracks the delay in “live” Super Bowl feeds, estimates that folks relying on streams will be about 40 to 60 seconds out of sync.
For more-casual fans, being up to a minute behind the on-field action may not be a dealbreaker. But for some die-hards, the idea of hearing about a game-changing play — say, on Twitter or in a text from a friend — before seeing it on screen may be too much to bear.
Short of shelling out loads of money to go in person, there aren’t many ways to experience an event like the Super Bowl as it unfolds in real time. But if you want to minimize that lag, or dodge the social media side effects of being slightly behind the times, here’s what you should know.
Why is there a delay at all?
Mostly it’s because of the behind-the-scenes technical ballet that makes live-streaming TV work in the first place.
“What’s going to happen Sunday is you’re going to essentially have two sets of delays,” said Jed Corenthal, a spokesman for Phenix. First up is the delay from the field to the cable, satellite or over-the-air broadcast provider, which he says typically accounts for between eight and 20 seconds.
This is the kind of latency that is worth stressing about the least, since most people watching the game on TV are subject to the same time delay. But that doesn’t mean the lag is totally insignificant.
When measuring the performance of Super Bowl streams from different providers last year, Phenix’s results were more delayed than during 2021′s game. Corenthal said that “across the board, the majority of that extra delay — and we don’t know why — came from the broadcast side.”
But what happens after that?
From there, the video streams from those broadcasters and networks are effectively chopped up into individual chunks, encoded at different levels of quality, processed, and eventually sent to “nodes” operated by content delivery networks, or CDNs, which pass the end result on to you. And that convoluted process, Corenthal said, accounts for another 20 to 50 seconds of delay.
Sadly, the very nature of watching a live, streamed event means you’ll always have some lag to live with. But if you’re really serious about watching the game as close to live as possible, your best move is to not rely on the internet at all.
By watching the Super Bowl on cable, through a satellite provider, or with an over-the-air antenna, you get to dodge all the additional lag that comes with preparing footage for streaming online. If past years are any indication, that’s enough to put you noticeably ahead of people watching the same game on Hulu or YouTube TV.
In case you were wondering, many cord-cutting aficionados suggest that going the antenna route will get you closest to watching the game in real time. Solid antennas can be had for well under $50, but finding the right spot for one can be tricky, and not all local network affiliates are able to digitally broadcast the game at the highest quality.
Still, the end result is free TV, so it’s worth a shot if you have the time and money to spare.
If you’re still set on streaming the game — or if that’s your only option — be sure to give yourself every possible advantage. Some streaming boxes, like certain Apple TV and Roku models, have built-in networking ports; consider connecting those gadgets to your router with an Ethernet cable to reduce the chances of stuttering and buffering. And if possible, try not to use your home internet connection for too many other things — that just means less bandwidth for the stream.
But that’s just to make sure you’re getting the best streaming picture quality. If your real concern is avoiding spoilers for Super Bowl moments you haven’t seen yet, there are some other options to consider.
This may go without saying, but avoiding social media is a smart idea, especially toward the end of the game. There’s a chance that incoming notifications from Twitter or your fantasy football app could spoil some surprises, too. You could just turn off notifications from those apps entirely, but it would be pretty easy to forget to turn them back on. Instead, consider using your smartphone’s anti-distraction tools to control which people and apps you hear from during the game:
- Open the Settings app and tap Focus
- Tap the “+” icon in the top-right corner and select “Custom” to create a new Focus mode
- Give your new Focus mode a name, then tap “Customize Focus”
- Choose the apps and people you want to receive notifications from. Once done, you can either schedule this Focus mode to run between certain times on Sunday, or turn it on manually from your iPhone’s Control Center
Here’s where things get a little tricky: Focus mode works differently depending on what kind of Android phone you’re using. Here’s how it works on newer Samsung devices:
- Open the Settings app and select “Modes and Routines”
- Scroll to the bottom and tap “Add mode”
- Give your new mode a name, then tap “Done”
- You’ll be taken to a screen where you can customize things; tap “Do not Disturb” and select the contacts and apps you want to receive notifications from
On other phones — like Google’s Pixel — you can customize the way the Do Not Disturb feature works in a similar way, preventing certain people and apps from buzzing away when someone scores a touchdown. The big difference? You’ll find these tools in the Settings app under the heading called “Digital Well-being & parental controls.”