Periscope Might Be Television’s ‘New Frenemy’

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Periscope and Meerkat, two new ­social media apps that allow users to live stream video from their phones, could, as personnel become more familiar with the technology, turn into useful tools for TV marketing departments to promote premiere parties, live chats with stars, and announce breaking news.

Helen Sloan/HBO; Product shot by Periscope

But as HBO recently learned, the apps can also pose a piracy threat. When dozens of viewers began live streaming the season premiere of Game of Thrones via Periscope–essentially allowing people who don’t subscribe to the channel to watch for free–HBO sent Periscope take-down notices.

HBO said Periscope has been responsive to its concerns, but in a statement, an HBO representative added, “We feel developers should have tools which proactively prevent mass copyright infringement from occurring on their apps and not be solely reliant upon notification.”

Viewers pointing their cameras at TV screens is one thing–but what about those at televised events? Since attendees at ball games and awards ceremonies now have the ability to stream video from their seats, they could expose angles or commercial-break activity that producers would prefer to keep from TV viewers.

One test may come this weekend, as hundreds gather inside the MGM Grand Garden Arena to watch the Floyd Mayweather vs. Manny Pacquiao fight. If even a few attendees hold up their cameras and live stream the match from their seats, it will allow people at home to watch the fight without slapping down money for pay-per-view. Granted, that video would likely be shaky, be without expert commentary and be shut down at any time. But do TV programmers want to start a precedent, especially if Periscope video eventually improves?

Networks pay millions of dollars for the broadcast rights to sporting events and awards shows, and the major sports leagues are starting to take notice. The NHL has prohibited live-streaming video apps in its arenas, but since keeping an eye on everyone with a phone is impossible, the ban will be virtually unenforceable. At the very least, the NHL is trying to stop reporters from using the apps, sending reminders to media outlets that the NHL prohibits “any unauthorized use of any transmission, picture or other depiction or description of game action, game information, player interview or other arena activity…without prior written approval.”

Representatives from Periscope, which has a larger user base than Meerkat, didn’t reply to a request for comment, but in its terms of service, the company says it will “respond to notices of alleged copyright infringement that comply with applicable law and are properly provided to us.”

Meanwhile, the apps are so new that the networks haven’t yet formulated an official position. One network insider calls the technology a “new frenemy.” Says an ESPN spokesperson, “We’re aware of these platforms, and we’re evaluating the opportunities and chal­lenges they present.”