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The Internet Failed at Streaming the Oscars Last Night

Alyssa Bereznak
National Correspondent, Technology
Yahoo Tech

I don’t have cable in my Brooklyn apartment. So last night I planned to stream the Oscars online.

Unfortunately, it went about as well as Liza Minnelli’s attempt to join the world’s most famous selfie.

I found myself jumping from website to website, desperately attempting to catch up on what I’d missed, before it would inevitably be plastered all over BuzzFeed and Twitter in looping GIFs and quotes. At each turn, I encountered jagged audio, the taunting buffer bar and, eventually, indifferent error pages. 

Let’s rewind to earlier this week, when ABC said it planned to stream the ceremony. The Oscars, ABC reps said, would be available via the network’s WATCH ABC app, and online for specific cable subscribers in select cities.

It was a relief to see a giant cable network sticking its neck out for the lost generation of “cord-nevers” who have become accustomed to relying on their laptops for most entertainment. It was even more exciting to discover that the friend I was watching the Oscars with happened to be a Verizon subscriber in one of those selected areas.

You see, for regularly scheduled programming, I’ve managed to get by thanks to a mix of Internet streaming services: Hulu, Amazon Instant, shared Netflix accounts and the kindness of strangers with HBO GO. But I’ve always hit a bump whenever a live event pops up and a network decides to make that event available only to subscribers.

To avoid missing the Grammys or the Super Bowl, I have to invite myself over to someone’s house with a bottle of wine to watch. That or piece together what’s happening from Twitter and incomplete “backstage” coverage online.

Needless to say, I was relieved that ABC had finally lifted the iron curtain and was going to broadcast the whole thing online. 

Unfortunately, almost as soon as the actual ceremony began, so did the problems. ABC’s streaming site lost audio, buffered until it could buffer no more and then just gave up. According to Quartz, I was not alone. Subscribers took to Twitter to share their frustrating experiences. I probably saw the screen below more than I saw Ellen Degeneres with a Samsung phone last night. And that’s saying something.

“There was a nationwide outage,” Fonda Berosini, ABC’s executive director of communications, confirmed to Yahoo Tech in an email this morning. “Our tech team is working to identify the root cause. For now, all we know is that one of our vendors experienced load issues due to greater than expected demand.”

The Oscar fail wasn’t limited to the United States, either: Our friends in Canada also had issues (for the second year in a row).

As a last-ditch effort, I turned to Aereo, a paid service that allows you to stream basic cable channels for as low as $8 a month. There, too, I encountered a sea of buffering. Though Aereo communications and public relations vice president Virginia Lam said the site experienced a “short-lived hiccup” in which users weren’t able to log in for about 15 minutes on Oscar night, she said the otherwise poor streaming quality was probably due to my lackluster Internet connection.

OK, there’s little I can do about my horrible Internet. But Aereo still records everything you stream for playback later. I thought I’d be safe to watch the whole program on my laptop, even if it took forever to come through.

That service is also flawed, it turns out. Once the time that a network allots for a program is up, the recording itself simply cuts out and jumps to the next show. Meaning that Aereo recorded all it could of the Oscars, but as soon as the awards show went overtime (as it always does) my stream cut out. It jumped to a New York news program before 12 Years a Slave won Best Picture.

Lam added that Aereo allows you to lengthen the start and end time of your recordings. That feature doesn’t exist for live TV. Which is the only reason I subscribed to it in the first place. 

So. Here we are in 2014. We never-cords are sitting at our laptops, waiting patiently for a well-streamed live event. We’ll gladly watch the ads! We’ll pay the monthly fees! Just make it happen, already. Please.

Alyssa Bereznak can be reached at alyssabereznak@yahoo.com. You can follow her on Twitter at @alyssabereznak.