B/R Live launched this spring with big ambitions and a simple tagline: “Because watching live sports should be easy.” Its biggest exclusive so far proved once again, however, that streaming live sports is still hard.
One hole into Friday’s pay-per-view Tiger Woods vs. Phil Mickelson match, the company’s support page was already handling a wave of complaints from fans unable to watch. The most common error encountered on various platforms was a page saying “this event is not purchasable,” while others were told there were too many devices streaming or saw a more vague “oops” message.
An hour in, @BRLiveSupport dropped the “Our team is working on a solution” line from its responses and directed frustrated viewers to a web stream of the match. By the back nine, a spokesperson was able to provide a bit of detail.
“We experienced some technical issues on B/R Live that temporarily impacted user access to ‘The Match,’” a statement read. “We’ve taken a number of steps to resolve the matter, with our main priority being the delivery of content to those that have purchased the PPV event.” The main issue reportedly came at the point of purchase, and persisted for a limited period of time.
(The details are still fuzzy, but worth noting: Turner owns and operates iStreamPlanet, a streaming technology company that announced a new direct-to-consumer platform, Orbis, to coincide with the launch of B/R Live.)
To ensure that those who had paid were able to access the stream, WarnerMedia (which owns B/R Live) opted to make the stream free online. Given that, don’t expect the company to offer full refunds for those that did purchase the event. Traditional pay-per-view options from cable providers were not affected, and the streamed broadcast itself only encountered stray problems for viewers.
By the time the two golfers headed to the 18th hole tied, the official @BRLive account was telling everyone to watch live. Phil Mickelson ultimately won the $9 million with a birdie on a makeshift 22nd hole. Had the match gone on any longer, WarnerMedia would have had even bigger issues, as the pay-per-view show on cable providers cut off mid-sentence precisely at 8 p.m. Eastern, after Mickelson’s final putt but before the prize ceremony.
Prior to “The Match,” Turner President David Levy said the event “is a very good demonstration of how we think sports should be watched, viewed and discussed.” In The Wall Street Journal, Levy said, “I see this as a step in where we're headed in sports television.”
There still aren’t official viewership numbers. And Friday’s issues aren’t expected to dissuade AT&T, which owns WarnerMedia, from continuing to innovate with its Bleacher Report brand. But for now, Friday’s early issues join a string of moments in which big companies struggled to deliver live sports over the Internet.
In August, Amazon received poor reviews for its coverage of the U.S. Open in tennis. In July, it was Google and YouTube apologizing for an outage during the World Cup semifinals. And before that, Hulu, jointly owned by giants like Comcast and Disney, had to explain its Super Bowl glitch.