SVG Digital Perspective: Periscope Is a Feature, Not an App. Here’s Why

By Brian Ring, Contributing Editor

Live-streaming app Periscope has been around for only a few months, but, oh my, how those months have been packed with insight. Live phone streaming has broken new ground for sports-video creators. Now that things have settled down, let’s take a look at the lessons learned. Here are five key takeaways.

1. Understand the hype. And have a “lean-in” strategy to navigate the digital hype-cycle. Embrace the positive elements, work hard to lose the negative ones.
We’re stunned by the growth in quantity and diversity of digital-mobile user behaviors. We know there are billions of eyeballs staring at billions of screens. And, since it’s either Android or iOS underneath, a new kind of “mega-scale economics” has taken hold in the consumer-digital market.

The result? An accelerated pace of innovation, an amplified hype-cycle, an increasing fear of age-old threats like piracy, and a private-market tech bubble to power it all.

So it’s possible that Periscope is the next new thing and that you absolutely have to be at that party. It’s also possible that it’s is the Napster for sports, opening a devastating wave of piracy that the business will never recover from. (A brief moment of silence, please, for the passing of my old friend, the music biz.)

But I don’t think so. Although a few experiences show great promise for these apps, they also expose important flaws that we can learn from.

The best advice is to understand the hype, experiment around it, and then build those insights into your digital strategy.

2. The threat of piracy is real, but it can also be a red herring.
Periscope and Meerkat seem to have distracted leagues and teams from the important potential of increasing loyalty, engagement, and interactivity with fans.

Got a golf journalist Periscoping at the 9th hole? Don’t ban her. Hire her. The interaction, engagement, and access afforded by this new technology is worth embracing, and the piracy threat is minimal.

Sure, credentialed journalists need to abide by the rules, whatever they are. But don’t be foolish about it. Periscope sessions are poorly produced and mostly boring, but, once in a while, they’re a bit of Web-chat fun.

Periscope bootlegs of the game won’t cannibalize TV audiences, or advertising for that matter. If you think it might, either you haven’t checked these apps out, or you don’t have enough confidence in your talented digital- and live-production teams.

In fact, looking back, Dick Costolo’s victory-lap tweet on the volume of Mayweather-Pacquiao streams was not just a tone-deaf career move; it was silly on the merits. That HBO boxing match was a record-smashing success! The impressive viewership of pirated streams resulted from HBO’s awesome programming, marketing, and production team, not some kind of magic born of Costolo’s acquisition.

Even more important, the tweet sidetracked an important conversation. Like all new digital media, live streaming is impacting industry — and is being shaped by it.

The more that networks, teams, leagues, and athletes can embrace the attractive elements of new digital experiences and incorporate them into their productions, the more value, loyalty, and engagement they’ll receive from their audiences. In turn, that will increase sponsor- and advertising-revenue potential.

On the other hand, if leagues and networks are overly fearful of new behaviors and use cases, they will essentially leave TV’s future up to startups with excessive valuations and leaning toward thin, free, UGC-driven products on the edge of copyright violation. Even worse, as Twitter has shown, they’ll provide a glitter of a brilliant signal — and a roar of rude, ambush noise.

The Periscope viewing experience today is pretty crappy in TV-production terms. But that’s not a good excuse to dismiss its potential.

3. Digital-media teams’ collaborating with live-production teams is going to yield the most valuable sports-fan experiences man has known.
Don’t let a new category-killer social app hijack one feature into a compromised experience that mainstream sports fans don’t even want.

There are so many ways to engage fans, and live streaming is one of them. Live streaming will grow and manifest itself in hundreds of small, fun, and compelling ways. It should get wrapped into thousands of apps, use cases, and fan-engagement plans.

After all, live streaming is part of a broader set of communication trends, tied as much to the innovation cycle of Facetime, Skype, and Google Hangout as to predecessor apps like Livestream, Ustream, and YouNow.

In the end, live-video producers ought to be targeting a mashed-up canvas of curated content that combines user-generated content, metadata, and commentary with professionally produced and hosted programming.

When that happens, live streaming will do what digital has done throughout the history of the TV biz: expand the depth and breadth by which content properties can connect with audiences.

Sure, it’s possible that a “YouTube for now-casting” will crop up as a new social gorilla in the marketplace, featuring genres like “ask me anything,” and crush the business model of live sports coverage. Or that Twitter’s new CEO will rebuild Periscope more directly into a broader, better-built Twitter experience that works closely — and humbly — with content producers.

But I don’t see it playing out that way. Neither Periscope nor Meerkat invented live streaming, and, given the current state of their products, I don’t think either is going to own the category either. Not if teams and leagues lean in and co-opt these technologies into their workflows.

4. Truly understanding the power of live means understanding the power of near-live, replays, and fast-forward.
The main event and the real-time broadcast stream are the ultimate asset; everything else is bonus content that drives tune-in and engagement — particularly if it’s on a mobile device.

Meerkat and Periscope were groundbreaking in their use of the real-time Twitter timeline as the key mechanism to drive tune-in to a live stream. That is new.

Getting massive audiences to tune in live is a super-difficult task for OTT streamers and legacy TV broadcasters alike. And live content is the most valuable content only if an audience tunes in to watch.

Therefore, it’s worth remembering that free-TV and pay-TV markets have been hit by a revolution in digital and time-shifting technologies over the past decade. We’ve got the DVR, video-on-demand, Twitter, OTT offers, live streaming, and more.

All of this has wreaked havoc with the linear-TV model and the old-school electronic program guide. It has also changed the way video creators need to think about the programming, scheduling, and retail distribution of their content.

Well executed mobile and social apps are poised to fill a gap that has emerged in today’s confusing universe of digital video, where finding and tuning in to compelling content is frustrating, to say the least.

When I first tried Meerkat, I opened four separate links to find that the stream had ended and no recording of it was waiting for me. No snippets of the stream to tease me into tuning in next time. No button to help me find similar streams. Dumb.

Periscope cleverly includes a built-in replay feature for streams. But, as currently implemented, the feature is still way too thin. The time window needs to extend back further than 24 hours when the content deserves it. Viewers should be able to fast-forward through the video. Why not automate highlights? Why not crowd-source live clips of the feed for broader social distribution?

Advertisers have begun to accept the C3 rating, which measures both live and three days of DVR playback, proof that near-live replays are only slightly less valuable than real-time views. (In fact, measured on a per-second basis, near-live clips may have more value than the broadcast itself.) So sports leagues should focus on the unique context and value of that near-live window, particularly for mobile social video.

That work needs to be done sport by sport, because each has its own set of viewing dynamics and fan-engagement characteristics to take into account. Repurposing video for maximum effect in the near-live window is a strategic task that networks and leagues need to take on. The fact is, when we’re real-time with an event, we’ve got a bit more patience for it.

And yet all of these shortcomings can be fixed and solved in the context of a well-built feature inside a league or team app.

5. Stay bullish on mobile, video, and social platforms.
These platforms enable additive content with exclusive access, intimate back-stage experiences, and other possibilities that will emerge out of new collaborations between fans, athletes, on-air talent, and, most important, brands.

I’ve had some truly amazing experiences on Periscope. Interacting with the on-air talent of Fox Sports Live — in real time, while my TV set aired the commercials — was awesome.

And I also recently watched an enjoyable San Francisco Giants pregame panel led by broadcaster Mike Krukow on Periscope. It was a lo-res, fixed-camera broadcast. The audio was difficult to hear. But it was a great panel, and 747 live viewers tuned in.

For an NBA Finals postgame athlete interview, I caught at least one feed with 1,000 live viewers and checked back to see that it had garnered more than 10,000 replay views within 24 hours.

I also watched fun streams of Game 5 of the NBA Finals. Two or three of them provided some novelty value for a few minutes. One feed, coming from Oracle Arena in Oakland, had more than 35 live viewers. My guess is that a great many of them were doing what I was: enjoying the game on TV and also enjoying Periscope as a fascinating, voyeuristic curiosity.

It was fun to see the cheerleaders do their thing during the commercial breaks. Periscope will remind at-home viewers that fun stuff is happening at the event while those ads are airing. I just hope sponsors are paying attention, because live streaming isn’t technically difficult. And as a fan, I’d sure love to see that bundled into league and team apps.