It’s just over 10 years since YouTube invited the world to ‘Broadcast Yourself’ and revolutionised the way we interact with video content. Today the latest video innovation is coming from a swathe of live streaming apps that allow users to broadcast real-time from their smartphone or tablet to audiences across the world. “Live Broadcast Yourself” if you like.
Live-streaming is not new (see Ustream and Justin.tv/Twitch), but these apps are taking off now thanks to the ever increasing power of smartphones and the near ubiquity of 4G and wifi connectivity. Apps are typically connected to a social network (often Twitter) and alongside the video content they enable viewers to interact with the broadcaster and other viewers through chat or by sharing “hearts” or other “likes”. On some services the video streams expire, Snapchat-like, as soon they’ve been broadcast; others store them to be viewed on-demand for a short period of time.
Meerkat was the first app to catch the technorati’s attention, when it launched at SXSW in March 2015. However, it’s quickly losing ground to Twitter’s Periscope, which launched a mere 4 months ago but is already established enough to have its own Periscope stars – artists, performers, commentators and social media butterflies, who are using the app to build and communicate with their growing audiences, see for example, Amanda Oleander, who is being described as Periscope’s first native star. Just last week Facebook joined the party, when it launched Mentions, which allows celebrities to live stream to their fans. And from the Bebo founder and serial entrepreneur Michael Birch, comes Blab, which is being likened to Periscope for groups of friends.
The ramifications for live news, citizen journalism and entertainment, not to mention for drunk midnight pranksters is potentially huge. But what does this mean for those of us who spend our time thinking about the interface between technology and public policy?
Well, it means all the usual tried and tested internet issues – piracy and privacy, safety and security, community guidelines and content standards – but with the added exciting twist of it being live. What could possibly go wrong?
Let’s look very briefly at two of those areas:
Unsurprisingly content rights holders have been quick to voice concern about live streaming apps’ potential for copyright infringement, with HBO issuing takedown notices to Twitter when the Games of Thrones Season 5 premiere was reportedly live streamed on Periscope. Despite the difficulties of policing live content, Periscope’s Terms do prohibit infringing material and they have been responding to notice and takedown requests it seems, as required by the DCMA.
However, it’s not the boxset-type material that’s the game changer here – after all it’s not as if pirated versions of GOT aren’t already available on P2P sites. The new element here is the impact on live premium content, the sort that TV networks pay eye-watering amounts of money for exclusive access to. This is where the value of “live” is really being challenged. Periscope was in the spotlight yet again in May 2015 when users live streamed the Mayweather vs Pacquaio fight, as boxing fans struggled to access the official pay-per-view broadcast. Notices were once again issued.
Some sports associations have made tentative efforts to address this potential problem – the National Hockey League and the US Open Golf tournament, for example specifically banning ticket holders from livestreaming. But other rights holders have been more cautious. After all, it’s not great business to be going after the very customers who are legally paying for access to the content in the first place. But watch this space – things may change if these apps go mainstream and the value that rightsholders can command for access is dented.
With each new wave of communications tools, society has had to learn how to best manage the nastier side of human interaction – the haters, the trolls and the creeps – from the merely unpleasant to the criminal.
Live streaming apps present nothing new in this sense, but they are already attracting media and online safety experts’ concern. There has been well publicised coverage about them providing yet another outlet for misogynistic harassment; and the potential for risks to young people are all too familiar – easy access to adult material and interactions, unmonitored live chat and the safety issues related to location-based broadcasting.
On the plus side, many of these apps already have some of the safety features we have come to expect as standard – the ability to block users, to report inappropriate materials and control your location settings – and online safety guidance is already being developed by independent bodies.
But as these apps gain prominence we should expect greater scrutiny about what industry is doing both to equip users with the tools they need to protect themselves, and to respond appropriately when things go wrong.
Photo Credit: Anthony Quintano, Flickr