When Live-Streaming the News, Who’s Working for Whom?

Last month, from the floor of the House of Representatives, Twitter’s Periscope app and Facebook Live cemented their place within the news media ecosystem. Exactly where that place is, however, is up for debate.

As discussed in a previous post here, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) had ordered the cameras in the House chamber used to feed C-Span turned off, just as Democrats, frustrated over the majority’s legislative stonewalling, were staging a sit-in on the floor. Rather than simply going off us-senate-debates-defense-authorization-bill-video-c-span-org_758399the air, however, some Democratic members then whipped out their phones and started live-streaming their protest using Periscope and Facebook Live, in violation of House rules that prohibit the use of electronic devices on the floor. Here in Washington, the live-streams quickly became the talk of the town on social media.

Frustrated by its inability to cover breaking news on its own turf, C-Span broke with protocol and began re-broadcasting the Periscope and Facebook Live streams. That got the attention of other news organizations, especially the three big cable news networks, which also began picking up the members’ streams, turning what might have been a minor political skirmish into a major national story.

For Periscope and Facebook Live it was a breakthrough moment. Not only did the episode showcase their potential as tools for both news gathering and dissemination, the House members’ use of the apps, and especially C-Span’s decision to defy the Speaker by re-broadcasting the live streams, became part of the story itself, drawing huge national attention to the live-streaming apps just as Twitter and Facebook are each making a major push to become the dominant live-streaming platform. Read More »

Live From Capitol Hill: The Triumph and Tragedy of Twitter

Political movements have long relied on the media, particularly mass media like television, to amplify their messages. The methods of political protests — sit-ins, marches, demonstrations — are staged as much to draw the cameras as draw a crowd.

Over the past decade, social media has emerged as an important adjunct to the mass media for protesters and dissidents around the world, as well as a critical tool for organizing political movements and activity. But on Wednesday this week, on the floor of the House of Representatives, social media actually replaced the mass media.

c-span_periscopeAs House Democrats staged their unprecedented sit-in to protest Republicans’ refusal to allow votes on three gun-control bills, House Speaker Paul Ryan abruptly gavelled the session to a close and ordered the cameras used by C-Span to broadcast proceedings from the floor to be turned off, citing House rules.

Whether the cameras stay on or not is under the control of the House majority, so Ryan could have left them rolling. But he clearly wanted to deprive the Democrats’ protest of media oxygen and thought, presumably, that turning them off would produce a media blackout. What he got instead was a media firestorm. Read More »

The Impoverishment Of Live TV

Live programming, particularly live sports, is widely seen as the last major thread still holding together the pay-TV bundle. Apart from news, nearly all other types of programming are just as enjoyable viewed on demand or time-shifted, perhaps even more enjoyable given the prospect for commercial-avoidance.

Live events, however, especially sports, are more valuable and enjoyable when viewed in real time, providing an incentive for consumers to coachellacontinue to pay their cable or satellite bill, particularly so as more live sports programming moves off free broadcast channels to pay-TV channels.

Live sports are also increasingly available over-the-top, of course. But for the most part those streams are simply retransmissions of existing linear broadcasts targeted at fans who can’t watch the games on their native broadcast platforms either because the games are not available in the viewer’s home market or because the viewer doesn’t have access to a big screen TV at game time. Issues with Given the option, most people would still choose to watch most sporting events on their native broadcast platforms.

Recent developments in the world of live streaming hint at how that could start to change, however. Read More »

From Winky-Dink to Facebook Live: Social TV’s Next Chapter

Broadcasters have long dreamed of making TV interactive and social. From the days of “Winky-Dink & You,” which encouraged its young viewers to draw on the TV screen along with the show’s host (much to their parents’ dismay), to Time Warner’s Full Service Network in Orlando, Fla., to the short-lived flowering of second-screen apps, broadcasters and their technology partners have tried for decades to make watching TV a more engaging experience by giving viewers the means to interact directly with their programming, and with others watching at the same time.

Most of those efforts have failed to catch on as their backers had hoped, largely because broadcast platforms are inherently uni-directional. They’re winky_dinknot networked to support much beyond overlaying some pre-baked interactive elements. Even today, when second-screen use while watching TV is a mainstream behavior, most of that activity involves something other than the content on the TV screen, or happens on unrelated social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook that are opaque to the broadcaster until after the fact. Dedicated second-screen apps allow for greater dialog between broadcaster and viewer but don’t really capture the broader conversation around the content.

This month, however, we’ve seen the first steps toward what could be a new and more promising stage in the evolution of social TV. Last week, Twitter landed a deal with the NFL to live-stream a package of 10 “Thursday Night Football” games next season. Though Twitter was not the highest bidder for the streaming rights, the micro-blogging service is a natural online home for the NFL. Nearly 50 percent of the conversations on Twitter are sports related and the NFL is one of the most frequent topics of those conversations. Read More »

How Twitter Beat Out Rivals For NFL Deal

Twitter this week landed streaming rights to a 10-game package of Thursday Night Football games next season for a surprisingly modest $10 million, edging out rival bids from Verizon, Amazon and Yahoo, at least one of which reportedly came in 50 percent higher than Twitter’s offer. Another rival, Facebook, reportedly dropped out of the bidding last week over objections to the advertising framework imposed on the deal by the NFL.

Twitter, in fact, will get minimal advertising rights as part of the deal. As a technical matter, it will be rebroadcasting the CBS and NBC feeds of the nfl_gamegames, which the networks will also be streaming over their own, authenticated TV Everywhere platforms as part of their $450 million deal to broadcast the games, and the networks will be handling the bulk of the ad sales for both broadcast and digital channels. Twitter will get a little bit of inventory around the margins to sell, plus some pre-game, player-created spots on Periscope. The deal is basically a $10 million brand-building exercise for micro-blogging and live streaming platform.

The games, in fact, will be available for free, without authentication, both on Twitter’s own platform and across its entire, syndicated global footprint.

That last point was obviously critical for the NFL, which has been working feverishly to expand its audience outside the U.S. and sees streaming as a way to reach potential fans in territories where broadcast rights would be a tough sell. Read More »

Fighting Piracy in Real Time

Ever since Meerkat and Periscope popped up on the scene, live event producers and rights owners have worried about the potential for piracy from mobile live-streaming apps. In fact, Periscope more or less made its bones, with the public at least,  during the Floyd Mayweather/Manny Pacquaio title fight last year, when the Twitter-owned app led to so much re-broadcasting of the HBO and Showtime feeds of the bout that then-Twitter CEO Dick Costolo, rather indiscreetly, declared Periscope the real “winner” of the night.

Since then, the threat has only grown greater as live-streaming apps have proliferated.

iphone_TV“We saw a lot of new live-streaming apps at CES that are just around the corner,” Clint Cox, VP of technical operations at the Ultimate Fighting Championship said at the Copyright & Technology conference sponsored by GiantSteps Media and the Copyright Society in New York this week. “It’s fairly common technology and it’s becoming a unique challenge for rights owners. It’s a very easy place to put infringing content quickly.”

The problem is doubly complicated by the fact that not all unauthorized streaming of live events is clearly infringing from a copyright perspective, particularly when it comes to live sports. While a licensed broadcaster’s pictures, descriptions and accounts of a sporting event are clearly copyrighted, the game itself — the action on the field, court, ice or ring, as it unfolds in real-time — is not.

Someone sitting in the stands pointing a Periscope-enabled smartphone at the field, therefore, may be violating the venue’s terms and conditions printed on the back of the ticket, but they may not be infringing anyone’s copyright. Read More »

Live Streaming Gets A Prosumer Twist

Broadcasters, news organizations and marketers have all begun experimenting with Meerkat and Periscope, but the reach of those efforts has been limited to people using the Meerkat and Periscope apps on particular platforms.

Meerkat last week rolled out a new, embeddable player that will expand the reach of Meerkat broadcasts, but now someone from the professional broadcasting world is looking to offer a more robust solution for distributing live broadcasts generated from mobile apps.

webstreamur_iphoneappMobile Viewpoint B.V. is a maker of wireless video and data transmission equipment for professional broadcasters that uses 3G and 4G wireless broadband links to transmit live, IP video from remote locations. At the NAB show in April, the Netherlands-based company introduced a “low cost” live streaming platform called WebStreamur aimed at small-scale and semi-pro videographers that leverages YouTube to deliver live streams via WebStreamur channels to any device from anywhere on the web.

“Since the beginning of Mobile Viewpoint we looked into the broadcast of smaller but attractive sport events on the Internet,” CEO Michel Bais said in a press release at the time. The growing popularity of watching video online via streaming platforms like YouTube, LiveStream, Meerkat and Periscope opens a marketplace for the delivery of live sports and other events that do not have the reach to get on normal Broadcast Television… WebStreamur gives the smaller content producers and sport teams easy access to a bigger audience and a global marketplace to monetize their content.” Read More »

The First, Rough Hashtag of History

Social media networks are in a rush to get into the events business. Breaking news events, that is. The latest to take the plunge is Instagram, which announced a pair of updates Tuesday designed to make it easier for users to follow events as they unfold in real time through images uploaded to the platform.

Periscope_screenshotThe first update is an overhaul of Facebook-owned site’s Explore tab to allow users to pull of images taken at a specific place or under a particular hashtag. The other is a powerful new search function that lets users search by hashtag or location.

“If you’re a journalist and you want to see live photos happening at any location in our system, you can simply type in the location and up comes the page,” Instagram CEO and cofounder Kevin Systrom told the Wall Street Journal.

The Instagram moves come on the heels of Twitter’s unveiling of Project Lightning, a new feature also designed to make it easier for users to follow breaking news events as they unfold. A new Project Lightning button in the Twitter app will call up eight to 12 human-curated feeds, with an emphasis on images and videos, each focused on a particular breaking event. It also follows the launch of YouTube Newswire, a new service from the Google-owned video site that will provide news organizations with curated feeds of verified videos taken by eyewitnesses to breaking news events.

And, though all of those new services and features must have been in the works for months given the amount of coding and testing they would have required, they all follow the appearance earlier this year of Periscope and Meerkat, which put a spotlight on the growing importance of live and real-time content on the web. Read More »

Social Media’s Enterprise Moment

The recent troubles at Twitter, culminating in the announced departure of CEO Dick Costolo has occasioned all manner of postmortems and punditry as to “what went wrong” and what should be done now to fix it. Most of the suggestions have focused on fixing Twitter’s dreadful UI and discovery tools to make it easier for ordinary web surfers to use, and figuring out how to better measure ROI for marketers.

All of those things could help. But they’re also premised on the idea that the key to success for Twitter is to behave more like Facebook: expand its user base, increase user engagement, then sell that engagement to marketers looking to target consumers based on their interests.

youtube_newswireThat would be a reasonable strategy — and in fact has largely been Twitter’s strategy  — were Twitter really suited to competing with Facebook. But it’s not, and shouldn’t try to be — or shouldn’t only try to be.

In contrast with Facebook, Instagram and Tumblr, Twitter is far-less about its users than it is about the information they exchange there. Like many Twitter users, I suspect, I follow and am followed (under @ConcurrentMedia) by hundreds of people whom I’ve never met and probably never will. We are not “friends” in real sense, or even in the attenuated Facebook sense. We follow each other because we find the information we provide each other useful in some way. Read More »

#MayPac: When Piracy Goes Mobile

Pay-per-view operators in the U.S. had trouble handling the last minute rush of signups for the “Fight of the Century” on Saturday, forcing promoters to delay the start of the welterweight championship bout between Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquaio by 45 minutes as operators scrambled to process the late orders and maximize the take.

MayPac_PPVIn contrast, the live-streaming apps Periscope and Meerkat worked flawlessly — so much so that it was possible to watch the entire fight for free as thousands of “Meerkasters” and “Periscopers” turned their phone cameras to their TV sets and rebroadcast the official HBO and Showtime broadcasts. There were so many streams available that Twitter users were able to catch every round, even as Periscope and Meerkat scrambled to respond to DMCA takedown requests, simply by jumping from one stream to the next.

There were also, of course, any number of free live streams of the fight available online for those who wanted to search for them, just as there are for any such big-ticket event, many of higher quality than anything you could see on Periscope or Meerkat. Boxing promoters in particular, in fact, have been battling pay-per-view piracy since the days of illegal, “black box” decoders in the 1980s and 90s. Read More »

YouTube Needs To Get Its Live Act Together

YouTube is not confirming but not exactly denying a report by the Daily Dot on Wednesday claiming the video site is getting ready to relaunch its live-streaming platform in with a new emphasis on games and e-sports. An announcement could come as soon as June, during the E3 game expo in Los Angeles, the report said.

Asked for comment, YouTube provided the website with a link to a GIF with no further explanation.  Asked in a follow-up inquiry whether the GIF was meant as a joke, YouTube replied that no, “the GIF really was [its] official response.”

Make of it what you will. But for YouTube’s sake I hope the original report is correct, because Google really needs to do something big in live streaming, and soon. Read More »

Meerkat and The Dawn of Sender-Side VOD

There are plenty of live-streaming platforms out there for anyone who wants to set up their own broadcast on the cheap. But few have caught on as quickly or generated as much buzz as Meerket, the barely month-old streaming app that rides atop Twitter.

meerkat_logoOr at least it did until Friday, when Twitter abruptly cut off Meerkat’s ability to easily access users’ list of followers to automatically alert them to when a new “Meerkast” is in progress.

The move was neither unprecedented for Twitter, which has never been overly developer-friendly, nor particularly surprising insofar as Twitter announced its acquisition of Periscope, a competing live-streaming app, reportedly for $100 million, on the very day it shut the door on Meerkat.

So much for platform neutrality.

Read More »

I linked the news today, oh boy

newspapersI’m assuming a judge and scholar as smart as Richard Posner of the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals doesn’t really believe copyright law should be extended to cover the paraphrasing of news reports without the permission of the copyright owner, as he seemed to suggest in a recent blog post (h/t TechCrunch). Instead, I’ll assume he simply meant to be provocative.

Posner’s subject was the parlous condition of the newspaper business in this twilight of the print era. After surveying the declines in hardcopy readership and ad revenue, and the baleful effects of cuts in the ranks of professional journalist (I feel your pain), he comes to this conclusion:

Imagine if the New York Times migrated entirely to the World Wide Web. Could it support, out of advertising and subscriber revenues, as large a news-gathering apparatus as it does today? This seems unlikely, because it is much easier to create a web site and free ride on other sites than to create a print newspaper and free ride on other print newspapers, in part because of the lag in print publication; what is staler than last week’s news. Expanding copyright law to bar online access to copyrighted materials without the copyright holder’s consent, or to bar linking to or paraphrasing copyrighted materials without the copyright holder’s consent, might be necessary to keep free riding on content financed by online newspapers from so impairing the incentive to create costly news-gathering operations that news services like Reuters and the Associated Press would become the only professional, nongovernmental sources of news and opinion.

Others have already discussed the obvious First Amendment problems with this suggestion (the reason I think Posner is not really serious), as well as Posner’s  misdiagnosisof all that ails the newspaper business (he doesn’t even mention the impact of Craigslist, which has nothing to do with free-riding on copyrighted content). I would raise another objection: his assumption that news-gathering must necessarily be financed by newspapers. Read More »