Kate Bulkley, Media Analyst.

Televised sport is on the ropes

By Kate Bulkley

Broadcast News

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For Broadcast May 07, 2015

Launch of Periscope has dealt a damaging blow, says Kate Bulkley

In the past few days, the TV business has been swept along on what feels like an irreversible Periscope tsunami reminiscent of what happened to the music business beginning more than a decade ago.

The speed of all this is head-spinning. Live video streaming app Periscope was invented only last year and, crucially, bought by Twitter on 13 March this year for a reported $100m (£68m).

It allows users to shoot and broadcast video to their followers in real-time. Unlike Vine, these user-created videos aren’t limited to six seconds and, unlike SnapChat, Periscope video clips can be preserved after live broadcasting for later consumption.

The purchase by Twitter gave Periscope a launch pad that the UK’s Meerkat did not have; its competitor is now playing catch-up by linking up with Facebook. In the 10 days after Twitter relaunched Periscope on 26 March, there were 1 million app downloads, and it became a game-changer within months.

The Floyd Mayweather-Manny Pacquiao fight (pictured) on Saturday was billed by broadcasters HBO and Showtime as the fight of the century. Such was the demand to watch the $100 pay-per-view event that the contest had to be delayed for 45 minutes so the pay-TV companies’ technology could catch up.

The irony is that the glitches sent thousands more viewers towards Periscope, where people were creating their own live broadcasts both from inside the boxing arena and from the TVs in their living rooms.

One Periscope feed was apparently watched by 10,000 live followers (all for free, of course).

The broadcasters had figured out that something like this might happen and had pre-emptively filed against online streaming of the big fight. HBO issued take-down notices during the fight itself to Twitter and others. But the cat was out of the bag and the take-downs couldn’t keep up. The cable systems were struggling to cope with demand, but Periscope wasn’t. Call it the power of the crowd.

All of a sudden, there are question marks over the future of broadcasting live sports.

At other live events, journalists want to use Periscope streaming to report – but this is a tricky area. US golf reporter Stephanie Wei had her media credentials withdrawn last week after Periscoping a video of golf sensation Jordan Spieth on a practice round. Organiser PGA said it pulled her credentials because it owns all video rights on the golf course for the whole week, not just during the tournament.

But before the big fight, the sanctioned @HBOBoxing account used Periscope for locker-room coverage. Where the lines are drawn is still being worked out.

In some cases, the way Periscope is being used is a form of piracy, but then so was Napster for the music business. Look where we are now in that industry: Spotify is a legitimate way to stream music and the business model has been changed forever.

Sports fans will tell you that Mayweather won at the weekend, but it looked more like a knockout by Twitter. The TV industry should take note of the company’s chief executive Dick Costolo after the fight. He tweeted: “And the winner is… @Periscopeco”.

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