Down Periscope

The use of Periscope during Mayweather v Pacquiano raises interesting questions

Periscope is a streaming media app owned by Twitter. A consumer, with the Periscope app installed on their smart phone or tablet, can use their camera to film something and send a live stream of what they are filming over the web. The integration with Twitter means that a user’s Twitter followers are notified of the live stream, and can click through to it directly from Twitter.

On Saturday night, boxing fans in the live audience for the Mayweather vs Pacquiao fight in Las Vegas were using the app to send live streams of the event out over the web to their Twitter followers. Dick Costello – CEO of Twitter –rather foolishly declared Periscope the ‘winner’ of the fight, incurring the wrath of the rights holders for seemingly endorsing piracy.

Periscope say they received 66 complaints from rights holders during the fight and shut down 30 offending streams. The others had ended streaming before Periscope got to them. However, HBO’s complaints were slightly compromised by the fact that they themselves had Periscoped live from the Pacquiao locker-room before the fight, promoting the fact on their own Twitter feed. On Monday Periscope issued a statement saying:

“Periscope operates in compliance with the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, we respect intellectual property rights and are working to ensure there are robust tools in place to respond expeditiously. Unauthorized broadcasts of content that is protected by copyright is a clear violation of our content policy. It’s not the kind of content we want to see in Periscope.”

Ignoring the massive bandwidth implications for the hotel, or the mobile networks they were using, this raises interesting rights questions for stadiums, rights holders and for Twitter themselves. This is an extension (and unusual twist) to the current challenge of preventing fans filming with phones in Premiership grounds.  This challenges comes at a time when stadium owners are dreaming of turning their venues into multi-media experiences (see FT article from last weekend here).

Given the quality of the video experience on Periscope from a stadium, it is highly unlikely that someone would ever choose it over a pay feed containing quality camera work, commentators, and in-depth coverage.  It is conceivable that Periscope content could provide a supportive, complementary experience for the paying viewer.

However, rights holders need to feel comfort that their expensive content is not being compromised and the problem is wider than just stadiums. Many of the streams being shut down on Saturday were filming off TV screens at home. This is much more troubling as Periscope’s interface lets you search for streams in the global ‘live’ menu.  One stream, being filmed off an HD TV in Spain, had 10,000 viewers at one point.

While the quality is poor, it will not be long till someone works out how to stream to Periscope via an HDMI cable from a set top box. At that point this breakthrough new consumer tech is merely facilitating old fashioned pay TV piracy

While much of this behaviour is hard to stamp out, Twitter is now a media company and needs to play responsibly. But the issue pits them between the other media companies, who they need to work with, and their consumers who want to push the boundaries with their apps. UK based video innovators such as Grabyo have worked out how to capture and play with TV content on Twitter within the rules. For big live sports events, it may need a rights holder to take control of the opportunity and run complementary Periscope feeds to its paying broadcast customers, while stamping down hard on pirates. Camera phones and 4G connections won’t go away so we need creativity and solutions to support enforcement. Twitter can help with both.

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