One of the biggest nights in American television was essentially unwatchable online, as technical problems marred various live streams of the Oscars and highlighted the huge gap between internet TV’s promise and its glitchy reality.
People in the United States reported widespread issues loading ABC’s live stream of the 86th Academy Awards on the network’s website and mobile apps. Complaints abounded on Twitter. Those who were able to access the feed said it frequently cut in and out, buffered, or lost audio.
We are experiencing technical difficulties with the live stream and are working to resolve the issue right away. We will keep you posted.— CTV Television (@CTV_Television) March 3, 2014
ABC had already restricted online access to subscribers of certain pay television services in a limited number of cities. That didn’t include three of the nation’s four largest providers—Time Warner Cable, DirecTV, and Dish Network—because they haven’t signed new distribution deals with ABC’s parent company, Disney.
But cord cutters had just as much trouble watching the Oscars. Aereo, the controversial service that transmits broadcast TV over the internet, appeared to have intermittent outages. Its customer support department spent the nightresponding to furious tweets. Aereo had the same issue during the Golden Globes.
Hi @aereo, I don't think I signed up for "buffering" with my package. Still trying to watch the Oscars. Thanks— Nicole K. H. (@denvernicole) March 3, 2014
The problems suggest that the infrastructure of internet television, particularly for live events, requires significant improvement before it can become a reliable replacement for traditional TV. In this case, the fault likely lies with ABC, CTV, Aereo, and their content delivery networks—rather than internet service providers like Comcast or Verizon.
It was still possible to find pirated streams of the Oscars loading without incident on sites like YouTube, iLive, and Ustream. And one industrious soul resorted to a video call with someone else’s TV:
This post was originally published at Quartz, an Atlantic sister site.