Periscope mobile video streaming: what’s the context of use?

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Periscope is a new venture by Twitter, pitched as a Meerkat-killing mobile video streaming tool. You stream as much as your bandwidth and phone battery will allow, while people can ‘talk’ to you by clicking the screen to make a heart, or typing. Already this is interesting in setting up a power dynamic, a ‘broadcaster’ and ‘audience’ model, or as we’ll see, something of a ‘performance’ model at least. You stream online, and people can find the stream via a twitter link, or by searching the global map of current streams, and then at the end it stays live for 24 hours (like a video version of Snapchat), or the owner can download to their device and do what they like with it, like putting it on Youtube.

I wondered about how it’s expected this will be used. I’m guessing the hope is that it might be used in situations where something is breaking or happening ‘right now’, and I see today it has been used to document the anniversary protests of the Ferguson shooting. But actually, in my first week of using it, it probably isn’t hitting that ideal. There are two cases we can look at.

One is the very ordinary, banal, but also quite necessary way people are just starting live streams about nothing in particular to establish ‘what this thing is’ but also develop their own practices. “What can I do this, why would I want to do that, etc?” Looking at the global map, any stream happening ‘right now’ is typically a teenage boy or girl with half of their face hidden, in their house/ bedroom, swamped by various questions or requests from the opposite sex to show parts of their body (ok, it’s mainly boys asking girls). So far, so ’90s chatroom’, right? My own tentative streams haven’t shown my face, and I haven’t felt comfortable talking, but even these have still pulled in a handful of viewers.

Cycle speedway track

The next case really starts to demonstrate value though. This last fortnight has seen the staging of the cycle speedway world championships in the UK, when the other two competing countries are Australia and Poland. It’s not (all) been officially filmed for later televising (although Sky Sports were filming the final, to be televised in… November), so you can see where this is going. Someone with the Australian riders has essentially streamed all (as far as I can tell) of the races from around the UK, culminating in last night’s finals day in Wednesfield, West Midlands, UK, which I attended with my family. Coping with the slight awkwardness of having to read sideways if you go landscape, he’s been able to give sports commentary but also shout out ‘your mum says hello’ to riders, when family in Australia have typed into the space. I tend to think this is all above and beyond what Periscope might have expected from the app, and it’s a great case study for them, but the real value comes from that individual – as a media practitioner, but also television ‘presenter’. As a result some of his streams have had as many as 115 simultaneous viewers (see below), not counting viewers who may watch the 24 hour archive after the event. From our perspective it meant we were able to leave early when the kids got tired, get home and watch the thrilling final races through the feed. On watching some of the earlier streams, I also found I’d turned up in one of the videos.


That time I was on PeriscopeIf this is the future of televised sports, I’m all for it. Ok, for now the viewing is mostly limited to mobile (you can view online if you catch a link on Twitter, but can’t comment there). Other uses will include breaking events and news, but we’re not quite there yet. But it’s interesting to see a global spread of users on the map, with a density in Qatar, United Arab Emirates and Turkey, as examples. So maybe there is opportunity for this platform in citizen journalism contexts. If you’ve had experience of Periscope, as viewer or broadcaster, we’d love to hear from you.