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Periscope and Live Streaming Apps: Opportunity or Threat?

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In the aftermath of the May 2nd Floyd Mayweather vs. Manny Pacquiao fight, one of the biggest stories to emerge was not about the fighters themselves, but about two other players in the picture: Periscope and Meerkat, up-and-coming live streaming apps that allowed users to circumvent pay-per-view and watch the fight for free. Many stories said content rights holders were sucker punched by the apps, declaring them a threat to broadcasters and content owners.

These accounts, like the hype leading up to the actual fight, are likely overblown. But that doesn’t mean that the latest streaming video innovations won’t have a disruptive effect on the media industry.

Content owners, distributors, and others in the media industry ecosystem are faced with three different responses to these new threats: they can ignore, fight, or embrace them.

Ignoring them means that their content will inevitably become less desirable to today’s television viewers who expect content delivered to the platform and device of their choice and on their schedule. This new mobile and social viewer expects video on-the-go as well as increased interactivity. Research indicates that over 50 percent of people engage in other digital activities while watching television. If broadcasters ignore Periscope, Meerkat, and other similar streaming platforms they will be stuck in the one-size-fits-all television model of yesterday, and their products will be less valuable to the consumer of tomorrow.

After Mayweather-Pacquiao, some argued that the HBOs and Showtimes of the world should fight against Periscope and Meerkat for copyright infringement. The media questioned how they could let people get away with watching the fight without paying for it, and how platforms like Twitter, which owns Periscope, could get away with enabling consumers to do that very thing. (Twitter reportedly shut-down dozens of streams in violation of copyrights.) Despite these arguments, content owners should not throw money at lawyers and anti-piracy efforts. The lesson from Napster is that blocking one streaming site only gives rise to others.

No one has been able to estimate the number of people who viewed the fight via Periscope or the number of those who would have shelled out $100 for the pay-per-view option if a low-quality alternative was not available. By going down this road, owners will simply be fighting a war with viewers who would never buy the content anyway. The industry needs to stop looking at Periscope as a piracy issue. It’s a business model that we are not taking full advantage of at the moment. It’s also an opportunity to reach people who are priced out of certain events, or do not consume content because they cannot get it on their preferred platform. If we can fix these issues, I would argue that we would fix the majority of the piracy problem.

And now for the third option: Content owners and distributors can and must incorporate live streaming into their business models. Today’s consumers, above all else, desire a completely immersive experience, where the quality of content remains important, if not critical. At an event, it’s the production crew’s job to create and tell a story that embeds the remote audience into the atmosphere of live presence. With social media, audiences at these events willingly contribute to the remote experience by posting pictures and videos.

While some professional sports leagues prohibit spectators from broadcasting at live events, others—including one that works with Imagine Communications—tap into this source emanating from their venues to weave video, photos, and first-hand accounts into a rich tapestry. By offering spectator-supplied contributions alongside professional contributions, sports teams create something truly immersive that captures the raw atmosphere of the venue and enables them to engage remote audiences. Combining these elements with the technology we are building today to support the transition to IP, OTT, and cloud-based platforms will allow us to deliver a broad spectrum of monetizable consumer experiences across a variety of product and cost offerings. 

By augmenting a broadcast with multiple types of content and viewing options, media companies can provide a tiered experience that can be monetized accordingly, taking advantage of audiences with different ideal price points. A premium tier of the Mayweather-Pacquiao fight, for example, could have provided behind-the-scenes content, interviews, and commercial-free viewing, while cheaper or lesser quality tiers could have been supported by ads or other branding. By taking this approach, content owners can better reach consumers with different price points and monetize these new offerings.

We are only now seeing the implications of live streaming apps. They're a problem—or an opportunity, depending on your perspective—that’s not going away. What the Mayweather-Pacquiao match did prove was that there is a clear customer demand for live-streamed video to mobile devices. The broadcast industry has the chance to harness a new way of doing business. We can ignore this or rage against it, or we can embrace it. I believe that broadcasters and content owners that blithely dismiss this threat or choose to fight against it are being shortsighted.

Rather than sticking to old ways of doing things, the broadcasters of tomorrow should be concerned with creating and monetizing new products to meet the market demand for personalized experiences targeted to active consumers. If they don’t, someone else will step in and seize the opportunity.

[Stephen Smith is Chief Technology Office, Cloud Technologies, for Imagine Communications. Streaming Media accepts vendor-written articles base solely on their value to our readers.]

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