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Meerkat and Periscope: what do they mean for entertainment and politics and what does the future hold?

periscope merkat twitterAllTheContent / @Meerkat, Periscope / Twitter

In the last few weeks, two new video livestreaming apps have hit the news: Meerkat and Periscope. They were launched within days of each other, but one has already gained the upper hand. A quick report on the state of play – ranging from digital upheaval to the invasion of privacy and copyright infringement.

The war between video streaming apps for mobile devices has been raging during spring 2015. The launch of Meerkat at the South by Southwest festival in Austin (Texas), in February, generated the buzz. This app, created by Israeli company, ‘Life on Air’, is now the celebrity’s friend – including Jared Leto, Ashton Kutcher and, most especially, Madonna who used it to premiere her new ‘Ghosttown’ music video, when she had released ‘Living for Love’ on Snapchat Discover.

After the release of Meerkat, Twitter immediately hit back by launching Periscope, its own video livestreaming app. Since then, the app has rarely left the stage, mainly featuring in the news and also politics.

The Meerkat-Periscope match – current state of play

These two apps, which at first glance look very similar, each have a number of special features and this is what has quickly allowed Periscope to overtake its sister app and feature in App Store’s top 20 at the same time as Meerkat has slid out according to Journal du Net. The apps in brief:

Meerkat and Periscope are two video livestreaming apps available on mobile devices – they are linked to Twitter and allow users to insert visible comments on the image during the live streaming. Users can broadcast a video stream live over the internet which is then promoted via their Twitter accounts. Depending on the size of its audience, the live video has the potential to go viral.

Following the interest generated by Meerkat and with a view to giving Periscope competitive advantage, Twitter rapidly restricted Meerkat’s access to its API, and Meerkat can now no longer access its Twitter contacts and follow them directly.

However, the main reason why Meerkat has quickly lost out to Twitter’s latest innovation has to do with the additional options offered by Periscope. It lets users choose, for example, to save a broadcast for replay for up to 24 hours, whereas it is not possible to store videos on Meerkat. This has given Periscope an advantage over Meerkat as a communication tool. A tough blow for Meerkat and some people are already talking of its premature death.

A shared mission but two different fates

Initial interest in these apps came from celebrities who saw the potential in Meerkat for free publicity, live audio and video broadcasting. This guaranteed them an audience and also the opportunity to reach a young following and win its loyalty. One of the founders, Ben Rubin, has spoken in this connection of a ‘spontaneous togetherness’ promoted by these technologies which make it possible to connect to a wider group with no geographical constraints and to share information free of censorship and manipulation.

Then interest came from the news world which had a lot to gain from these new tools. One Periscope user brought the app to prominence on 26 March in New York, by broadcasting live the explosion of a building in East Village. The images circulated on a loop on the social networks before the television crews even arrived.

Periscope, with its replay function, even outpaced its cuddly friend in the area of political coverage. Its live streaming is available for replays for 24 hours, and this has let it win public support. Its use as a communication tool by reporters and politicians is increasing both in Europe and the United States. According to the Washington Post, in an interview about the 2016 presidential elections reported in Méta-Média: ‘Candidates will Periscope their campaign stops. Lawmakers will Periscope insta-statements from the Capitol.’ The Post has also declared that parliamentarians will now be able to take advantage of their pool of Twitter followers to develop a targeted, attentive audience on Periscope. This particular interest in the app makes perfect sense in the United States where the 2008 and 2012 presidential elections were shaped by the use of Facebook and Twitter.

A new tool and new communication challenges

It has to be said that these new techniques require a degree of skill on the part of the communicator. Nicolas Sarkozy recently paid the price for this on the evening of 29 March 2015, when he saw his speech celebrating the victory of the UMP in the departmental elections ‘Periscoped’. Someone on his communications team overlooked live reactions from web users – these turned out to be fairly critical and upset what should have been a positive communications exercise.

In our society, which philosopher Régis Debray in LEtat séducteur (The Seductive State) has called the ‘videosphere, a democracy where power operates and is maintained in the relationship between the individual and the screen’, Periscope and Meerkat have a bright future ahead of them when it comes to covering political events.

And where does copyright come into all this?

Obviously video livestreaming poses copyright problems. Since the launch of these two apps, especially in the case of Meerkat, sports leagues and producers of television series have taken a stand against this additional form of piracy. Indeed, Meerkat has a new function which allows users to broadcast video directly on YouTube by using the hashtag #KATCH. You simply record a video on Meerkat, and tweet it with the hashtag #KATCH and the video is instantaneously downloaded onto YouTube.

Slate.fr has reported that the head of the NHL published a memo on this subject on 21 April, mentioning the ban on accredited journalists using Meerkat or Periscope:

‘Any streamed retransmissions, any broadcast of images in violation of NHL directives (including, for example, the streaming of what happens in the skating rink 30 minutes before the start of the match) and in violation of access policies for the media is expressly forbidden.’

This new form of streaming represents, in the case of sports leagues, a potential loss of control over their image, an infringement of their broadcasting rights, and, as a corollary, a reduction in their future income.

The appearance of Meerkat and Periscope seems to have provided a new legal conundrum, and Periscope has already reacted by shutting down the accounts of users who illegally broadcast episodes of the Game of Thrones on the grounds of ‘copyright infringement’, as reported by Slate.fr citing The Independent.

These two new apps have been in existence for two short months but their scope and the tricky issues they pose give some idea of what the future of this new extremely powerful yet also unpredictable communication tool holds.

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