Video streaming apps Periscope and Meerkat offer a new and controversial way to view live sports content. Is this the start of another piracy battle, or should they be embraced to create new revenue streams? Matthew Hochberg reports.
Just as sports teams, leagues and rights-holders have started to get on top of the commercial opportunities and challenges presented by social media platforms Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, a new phenomenon has come along and shifted the goalposts.
Live-streaming apps – the most popular currently being Twitter-owned Periscope and rival platform Meerkat – allow users to broadcast live video filmed on their smartphones to a following on the social network. When it is used behind-the-scenes with sports teams – or the smartphone is put in the hands of a high-profile athlete – the platforms give fans never-seen-before viewpoints.
Though Periscope and Meerkat have been around for just a few months – Twitter bought the start-up company behind Periscope for a reported $100 million in March, launching it the same month – they have already been the cause of much conversation, or consternation, in the sports industry, depending on who you speak to.
“We’ve seen a lot of Q&As with players, behind-the-scenes looks into locker-rooms, workout routines…lots of different and creative uses,” a Twitter insider told SportBusiness International.
We clearly state in our contract policy that copyright infringement is against our community rules
Currently, eight English Premier League clubs – including Arsenal, Manchester City and Southampton – have official Periscope accounts, using the platform to provide fans with such unique content.
However, despite the benefits, Twitter does state Periscope is in a “highly experimental” phase, and it has been subject to a significant amount of negative attention.
Breaches of copyright are the main point of contention. Periscope, Meerkat et al are different from established online video platforms such as Google-owned YouTube and Twitter-owned Vine because of their live element; YouTube, for example, automatically scans new uploads using Google’s Content ID system, enabling the rightful owner of the copyright to block content as appropriate.
However, if sports content goes out live and millions of people tune in to watch, by the time it finishes it could well be too late for the copyright owner. The obvious stakeholders that see this as a danger are the TV broadcasters who pay significant rights-fees for the same content that can be accessed on the platforms, albeit at a lower-quality, for free.
A prime example of this was the ‘Fight of the Decade’ between Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao last month, which took place in Las Vegas and was available on pay-per-view (PPV) in the United States for a record $99.
The fight went on to shatter PPV records – generating $400 million from 4.4 million domestic buys across the States – however it was also filmed by certain members of the crowd on Periscope. In fact, the word ‘Periscope’ was mentioned on Twitter more than 91,000 times and over 43,000 streams were broadcast on the day of the fight, the highest number since the launch of the app.
According to ESPN, certain streams of the fight had more than 10,000 viewers at their peak.
“We clearly state in our contract policy that copyright infringement is against our community rules. The accounts of users who do this repeatedly face termination, judged on a case-by-case basis,” says the Twitter insider.
“In the context of the Mayweather-Pacquiao fight, we actually did get notices from rights-holders and we were able to act on 30 of the live streams. With the remaining ones, either the stream ended or was no longer available. We were able to respond within minutes.
“We had people on staff on the Saturday night of the fight; in most cases, we were able to act mid-stream or disable the replay if the user had enabled one.”
Meerkat’s founder Ben Rubin also said his company “worked closely with the content owners and contacted users they alerted us about” during the fight.
Curiously enough, however, Twitter CEO Dick Costello’s own tweets don’t appear to align with Periscope’s guidelines. Following the fight – which many sports fans considered to be anti-climactic from a sporting perspective – he tweeted: “And the winner is…@periscopeco”.
Gearóid Godson, social insight manager at media agency giant MEC, points out that Costello may have been referring to Showtime, the American broadcaster that was a rights-holder for the event and using Periscope to stream scenes from Pacquiao’s dressing room pre-fight. However, he admits it may not have been the wisest thing to tweet.
“In light of the copyright claims that would follow post-fight it seemed a little foolish,” he adds. “However, the pre-fight usage was an excellent case study for Periscope to show its usefulness in engaging with an audience, building up an appetite for the fight and perhaps persuading a final few people to sign up for a PPV subscription.”
The Twitter insider is keen to emphasise Costello was speaking personally rather than on behalf of the company: “No one speaks for Dick but Dick. That wasn’t from an official Twitter company account – that was from his own personal Twitter account…Periscope is not excited about piracy.”
The new apps have reignited an old storyline when it comes to rights-holders looking to keep on top of its video content in the new digital world, which many see as a game of ‘whack-a-mole’; just as the Premier League has vigorously pursued and successfully shutdown thousands of illegal streaming websites, hundreds more pop-up within days.
Twitter, however, says if it is a game of whack-a-mole, Twitter is the one that is holding the mallet.
“I can’t say whether [whack-a-mole] is accurate or not,” the insider says. “We respond to notices that are filed. We’re not proactively monitoring streams, unless the rights-holder reaches out in advance of the event. Our process is: we respond.”
What Comes Next?
Sports leagues have began to take stances on fans using platforms like Periscope and Meerkat to film live sports footage.
The NHL (National Hockey League) has gone to one extreme, banning fans from using them at games.
“Without limiting the generality of the credential language, any streaming of footage in violation of the NHL’s Broadcast Guidelines – including, for example, live streaming inside the arena less than 30 minutes before the start of the game – is expressly prohibited,” said deputy commissioner Bill Daly at the end of April.
Golf’s PGA Tour, meanwhile, revoked the credentials of Sports Illustrated golf contributor Stephanie Wei for the rest of the season when she used Periscope to show golfers teeing off in practice two months ago at the World Golf Championship (WGC) Match Play event in San Francisco.
PGA Tour chief marketing officer Ty Votaw – Getty Images Sport
Wei had previous, having used her Instagram account to post video clips of Tiger Woods practicing at an event earlier in the season.
PGA Tour chief marketing officer Ty Votaw had strong words for Wei and anyone else looking to live-stream “unlicensed content” using platforms such as Periscope and Meerkat.
“Who owns those rights? We do, not you,” he said. “If you want access to those rights, you have to pay for it. When [Wei] posts unauthorised videos, she’s stealing. I don’t understand how you can’t get that through your head.”
The NBA (National Basketball Association) and NFL (National Football League) also have policies in place that prohibit both reporters and fans from live-streaming footage of games using phones. However, Major League Baseball (MLB) is taking a different approach as – perhaps in line with its efforts to engage and revitalise interest with a young fanbase – it has said it will not take action against those who live-stream games.