Will streaming video directly from your smartphone be the next big thing at amplified events? We review the two new apps that could hold the answer: Periscope and Meerkat.
Live video apps Periscope and Meerkat are attracting growing media attention. Much of the coverage focusses on their potential to change news reporting and citizen journalism, but in this post, we consider how they can be used effectively by event organisers and event amplifiers to engage audiences ‘in the moment’.
Using Live Video Apps at Events
Mobile live video apps present a range of opportunities to generate spontaneous content, which can help raise awareness of your event and drive engagement with the issues under discussion.
Here are just a few ways event organisers could take advantage of the opportunities presented by this trend:
- Deliver spontaneous interviews and exhibition stand demos live on air
- Engage viewers in interactive debates with keynote speakers in response to their presentations
- Stream sections of a talk as teaser footage and use this to promote your official live stream, or separate out sections of a talk according to topic
- Allow users to scope out your event before coming along
There will be other ways that these tools can be used creatively, and I’ll be one of those experimenting over the next few months to see how well these tools can engage event audiences near and far.
Including any new technology within an amplification plan requires a careful risk assessment to identify issues and solutions. Potential risks include:
- Undermining an official live stream: If you are offering a pay-per-view live stream you need to assess the risk of this being circumvented by audience members using these tools. If you are offering a free and open live stream, you need to assess the missed opportunity risk of failing to use these tools to promote your stream.
- Poor quality content damaging the event’s reputation: Individual audience expectations play a big part here, although at the moment it looks like shaky-cam footage is expected/accepted within mobile live streaming. However, if you feel this could be detrimental to your event or brand image, you will need to consider how you can ensure a high quality output when using these platforms before judging whether to incorporate them into your event amplification strategy.
- Ability to get your content out: When using any new online tool, it is important to ensure you can get your data or content out so it can be made available in another format. The landscape can change quickly and you don’t want that fantastic video clip to disappear because it was locked in a service that has since closed.
- Increased risk of copyright infringements: If you have a speaker or contributor agreement that mentions copyright, you may want to review the wording so it is clear who is responsible for taking action if a delegate streams something without the speaker’s permission, and outlining what you are able to stream yourself as the event organiser/amplifier. You may also need to consider how to word a statement to the audience at the beginning of the event or each session to clarify your position on delegate streaming.
New Mobile Live Video Apps
Much of the discussion about mobile live video streaming focusses on two new apps: Periscope and Meerkat. Here we evaluate each of these apps against the needs of event organisers and amplifiers. Personal users will obviously have different priorities, but here we have focussed on the issues for conferences and events.
Periscope is a new service launched by Twitter that allows users to “explore the world through someone else’s eyes”. It does this via an iOS app.
Once you have downloaded the Periscope app on your iPhone and created an account (either directly or using your Twitter profile), the app is fairly straight forward to use. You can browse live or recent streams from those you follow, choose to browse streams from across the world, find people to follow and broadcast your own stream.
To start a stream, you simply click on the icon, then type in what you are seeing now. This forms the basis of the optional tweet to tell your Twitter followers that you are live. There are a few options you can select before you hit the “Start Broadcast” button, including whether to show your location, whether to make your stream private, whether to restrict comments only to those who follow you, and whether to tweet a link to your stream. Once you are happy with those settings, you hit “Start Broadcast” and you’re live.
If you choose to tweet a link to your stream, your Twitter followers can click on this link to watch the stream on any device. Every time someone joins their name appears on the public stream.
Viewers can comment on or ‘heart’ a live broadcast as many times as they like. These actions take place within the app and are not visible out on the public Twitter stream.
Once you have finished streaming, the video of your stream is available on Periscope for 24 hours. You have the option to save your stream locally to your camera roll. Viewers cannot download your footage.
Terms of Service
Points to note include:
- Periscope’s terms of service and community guidelines clearly outline how to report copyright infringement if you feel your content has been copied. The transitory nature of this type of content means that if you want to report an infringement, you will need to do so quickly, as footage currently lasts only 24 hours. If you think that your content or that of your contributors is likely to be at risk, it would be wise to monitor Periscope streams related to your event and designate someone who can quickly fulfil the reporting requirements to let Periscope know about the infringement, or agree a reporting process to let your contributors know so they can pursue action themselves.
Acquisition by Twitter
Twitter’s acquisition of Periscope gives it a definite edge over its main competitor, Meerkat. Twitter has limited Meerkat’s access to their social graph, which will limit some features, such as push notifications when a friend starts streaming. By contrast, Periscope users can opt to receive notifications every time someone they follow starts a stream, which can help to capture an audience in the moment more effectively. This could be seen as an indication of how important Twitter sees live video becoming in the near future.
Periscope saves your live streams for up to 24 hours, allowing your followers to catch up if they discover your tweet promoting the stream after you have finished. It also includes the option to save your live video to your phone’s camera roll (assuming you have sufficient space).
It is worth noting that Periscope, like Meerkat, encourages you to film in portrait mode, which can limit the usefulness of the footage after the event. This is a feature that seems to have particularly irritated the BBC’s Rory Cellan-Jones.
Private Live Streams
You can stream privately by selecting which followers you would like to see your stream. The caveat is that you can only select people who follow you back within Periscope, so you cannot target a private stream at someone who is not using the app or following you.
You can choose whether to share your location when launching your broadcast. For users at events, the location feature may be useful (particularly at larger/dispersed events, such as city-based festivals). However, some users may be concerned about sharing their location, so the option to hide this on a per stream basis is important.
Large, vocal audiences can result in lots of comments and hearts appearing on the screen, which can obscure part of the video itself.
Comments go wild on the @GuardianTech‘s recent Aeropress Coffee Maker demo
This kind of comment feed could attract malicious behaviour in the same way as a Twitter wall positioned behind a speaker. Whilst a person running the stream from their device can respond verbally to any inappropriate comments or shut the stream down, a presenter or speaker appearing in front of the mobile phone camera will not have the same level of immediate feedback. The comments will appear on playbacks of the stream, providing opportunity for a post-stream response to any critical comments. Periscope has recently updated their functionality to allow broadcasters to block people with one tap whilst live on air if they find a comment inappropriate, which goes some way towards reducing this risk.
It is difficult to find previous broadcasts by followers (even if you know they exist!). The person’s profile does not list recent broadcasts.
Periscope is currently only available for iOS users, but they are working to crank out an Android version, and will presumably support other platforms if there is a demand.
Viewers can watch live streams from friends in their browsers by clicking on the link shared via Twitter, without installing the app or setting up an account, so there is a level of accessibility to the video content itself, if not the wider features of Periscope.
Meerkat launched before Periscope and was attracting considerable hype until Twitter limited their access to the social graph. There is widespread speculation that this could reduce Meerkat’s popularity, unless it is able to offer something different.
There are key differences between the two apps and it is too early to declare a victor in the race to become the top mobile live streaming app, so here is an overview of Meerkat, for comparison.
Whilst Meerkat’s fundamental functionality is very similar to Periscope, it has some interesting additional features, including:
- Game mechanics, including a leaderboard: Meerkat users are given a score and ranked on a leaderboard, where all other users can see the scores and follow directly. Points are awarded for various actions within the app, including comments and hearts received.
- The ability to add an ‘End Stream’ button: This allows you to end a stream with a call to action and a link.
- A cute refresh mechanism: Not a strictly useful feature, but a delightful one. Just tap the meerkat in the header to see what I mean.
In contrast to Periscope, Meerkat does not offer tabbed options to browse streams and start your own. The home screen of the app immediate gives you the option to schedule or start a stream instantly, whilst exploring other people’s streams seems to be secondary in the design.
The other key difference is that Meerkat streams are not available for replays. Once the stream is over, that’s it.
Terms of Service
Meerkat offers a really simple Rules of Meerkat statement that summarises what users can expect and what is expected of them. This is really useful.
- The service may include advertisements: There are no adverts at the moment, but it is worth noting that they explicitly state, fairly early on, that this is a possibility. Periscope doesn’t make an explicit statement about advertising, but Twitter’s recent attempts at monetising their core service suggest that this could be an option for Periscope at some point in the future too.
- Your content could be made available to to other companies, organisations or individuals, without compensation.
- Meerkat has a similar policy regarding copyright infringement reporting as Periscope. In the absence of replays, this may be harder to police as an event organiser. If you think that there has been a copyright infringement you have to be able to provide information reasonably sufficient to permit Meerkat to locate the material.
One of the big advantages of Meerkat for event amplifiers is that you can schedule a live stream in advance and send a promotional tweet, including a photo (tweets with images get twice the engagement of those without).
Whilst this doesn’t play into the ‘in the moment’ narrative of those streaming for more journalistic purposes, it can help an event amplifier plan and promote their activities around an event more effectively. The scheduling feature is a little slow, and could be even better if it allowed you to set a reminder in your calendar to ensure you start your advertised stream on time.
The ‘End Stream’ Button
The customisable ‘end stream’ button is a really useful feature for event amplifiers, who could use Meerkat to give a short preview or interview at an event and then direct viewers to the official event stream, or to further information about the event.
Live broadcasts include a scrollable list of all of those watching at any given time. Each of these viewers is represented by an icon, which when clicked shows the viewer’s Twitter name and bio information. This is a much richer level of detail about viewers than is available on most live streaming platforms. This information is public to all viewers.
I have put this in the cons section simply because for event amplifiers part of the task at hand is to reach and engage people in a conversation across time and space. It is therefore important to make materials available for ongoing conversation. For other use cases this may not be so much of a problem.
Like Periscope, Meerkat allows users to save their footage to their device, although again this will be in portrait mode.
The app home page includes a list of current live streams, but this appears to be global, so finding current streams by the people you follow seems to be harder within the app itself. This suggests that viewers will normally find a stream via a tweet, rather than browsing opportunistically in the app.
Positioning of Icons
Meerkat shows who is watching a particular stream with a scrollable list of clickable icons, and displays comments separately at the bottom of the screen. This obscures part of the video and broadcasters need to consider their framing accordingly.
Like Periscope, Meerkat is currently only for iOS users, although anyone can watch a stream on any device by clicking on a link in a tweet.
Established Mobile Live Video Apps
What is interesting about the level of coverage Meerkat and Periscope are receiving is that these apps don’t offer anything radically new. There have been a mobile live streaming apps available since at least 2010, including:
- Skype Qik – Note: Since being aquired by Skype, Qik focuses on sharing video with groups of friends.
These apps offer longer term video storage post live stream, although this is often subject to advertising (usually a in the form of a pre-play video advert). However, the convenience of pointing your mobile phone at something and streaming that video live to the internet is nothing new, nor is its applicability to event amplification. Brian Kelly mentions using Bambuser in his 2011 paper Open Content and Open Events: Professional Development in an Amplified World and Marieke Guy evaluated Brian’s early experiments with the tool back in 2010.
All of these apps allow sign in with Twitter and broadcast from their mobile device. So why have they not taken off? What can Periscope/Meerkat offer that makes these more useful for event organisers?
In his article Why Meerkat and Periscope are the biggest things since, well, Twitter, Hootsuite CEO Ryan Holmes suggests it may be a combination of timing, a shift in attitudes towards sharing photos and videos with the world, and the presence of established social graphs, such as those created within Twitter and Facebook.
At this stage, I am inclined to agree. The notion of “live video streaming to Twitter” is a more widely appealing concept. Bringing live video into a space where people are already comfortable with sharing a wide variety of content with a global audience seems like a natural move, particularly after the introduction of Vine, which set a precedent for video on Twitter and may continue to influence the ways video is used via Periscope (will Twitter users want to watch a 2 hour live stream or a short clip that goes beyond Vine’s six-second animated gif style video?).
The existing mobile live video streaming ecosystem may benefit from this surge in interest, and I would anticipate people looking for more creative ways to use live video at events as a result.
Live video streaming at events has traditionally been seen as a static activity covering specially selected highlights. The rise of mobile live video streaming apps could increase the amount of impromptu live video generated at events and open up new opportunities for event amplifiers to engage with rich media – particularly where budget constraints prevent a full scale live stream being provided.
As this trend evolves, I recommend that event organisers carry out an open minded risk assessment to consider the impact of these tools on their events – whether they plan to use them officially, encourage others to use them, or expect their audience to start streaming parts of their event spontaneously.
If you are intending to make use of these tools, consider how you can produce a good quality experience for your delegates and remote audiences. If you are concerned about the risks, plan how you can respond to these risks without limiting your audience’s enjoyment of these services.
Whether you choose Meerkat or Periscope to help amplify your event, think about the new opportunities these tools provide and find creative ways to use them, rather than doing the same thing on yet another platform.