Periscope ushers in wild-west era for sports broadcasting
Technology, and its effect on the myriad ways sports fans enjoy and consume their passion, is progressing at such dizzying pace that it’s all the various worldwide sports organizations can do to stay three steps behind.
And in the effort to clamp down and regain command of areas that have historically been their undisputed and exclusive domain – areas like broadcast rights revenue – they not only are looking like the the bad guys, they are also losing the battle.
There have been a few recent instances that created some stir on social media, including the ATP Tour’s decision a few weeks ago to begin slapping copyright violations on some Twitter users who produce gifs and having them removed.
The ATP was the recipient of some pushback from a small, but vocal group of tweeters who felt the Tour was being petty, picking on the small fish, essentially spoiling people’s harmless fun for no apparent reason.
“The issue primarily is match action – a sequence of multi-camera clips are put up, or sequences of points, or a match point from Miami, those are the areas,” ATP Tour marketing and PR director Simon Higson told the Guardian. “Not everything is being taken down; discretion is being used.”
If you read the fine print on the back of a ticket to a Formula One race, you’ll find that anything you might video once you go through the turnstiles technically belongs to them. So if anyone is monetizing it, Formula One can go after the profits. They were probably a little ahead of the game.
In the UK, gif policing is nothing new in sports. The Premier League announced a crackdown on gifs and Vines last August. “It’s a breach of copyright and we would discourage fans from doing it. We’re developing technologies like gif crawlers, Vine crawlers, working with Twitter to look to curtail this kind of activity,” Premier League spokesman Dan Johnson told the BBC. “I know it sounds as if we’re killjoys but we have to protect our intellectual property.”
The Premier League produces a subscription service that provides a video clip of each goal within minutes – a revenue stream that obviously could be affected by thousands of fans posting Vines off their televisions at the same time.
The argument often cited by those who produce gifs and Vines is that they are actually doing the sport a favour – that it’s free promotion for them.
The reality, of course, is that the majority of those who view these clips are usually already diehards.
“I’m sure there are some instances that something is shareable that it will go beyond hardcore tennis fans. Perhaps it’s not the norm, but it does happen,” Higson said. “It’s fast-changing area. At the moment, whilst at the same time recognising the importance of social and fan engagement, we also have a responsibility to protect our intellectual property and the contractual agreements in place. … They bring significant value into the sport, which in turn flows back into the tournaments.”
The PGA Tour’s chief marketing officer, Ty Votaw, says the notion some fans have that professional sports is some sort of benevolent endeavour produced for their enjoyment is, well, interesting. “Some of them will say, ‘You don’t own this content. The fans should own this content.’ That’s a pretty libertarian view of things,” Votaw told the Guardian. “It removes an amount of exclusivity premium that can be charged for the content, if it’s available to anyone at every time.”
Violating broadcast rights and copyright laws is nothing new, of course. Everyone – even the most well-intentioned of us – has searched for a pirated stream online at one time or another. For many, it’s because they don’t want to pay for product. For others, it’s a matter of being in a part of the world where the broadcast is unavailable. But the pirated streams are larger-scale operations; with every new advance, the ability to flout broadcast rights restrictions is increasingly being put into the hands of just about anyone with a mobile phone and a fast internet connection.
There’s a sense of the floodgates opening. And no product has created as much of a storm as the newest one, Periscope.
Along with its slightly-older competitor Meerkat, Periscope allows anyone who downloads its app to broadcast in real time, from virtually anywhere.
A month ago, Bob Bryan, one of twins who make up the No1 doubles team in the world, Periscoped live – twice – from the picturesque ATP tournament site in Monte Carlo. He was up on a balcony, a long way away, but he was pointing his phone at the live match action going on below.
There was no ill-intent involved but the first thought was, “Wait a second. That’s live, being broadcast around the world on various networks and streams; he can’t do that, can he?”
Imagine the concept of hundreds of fans in the stands at tennis or golf tournaments around the world doing the same. Or the Super Bowl or World Cup final. Or – as notably happened during the expensive pay-per-view battle between Manny Pacquiao and Floyd Mayweather Jr – at a big-ticket prizefight.
On an even more macro scale, imagine thousands doing the same thing from the comfort of home, in front of their television sets.
The Pacquiao-Mayweather promoters and the boxers themselves were hardly cheated out of a massive payday because of breach of copyright. But that’s not the point. Millions more may have been taken off the table and, however overpaid they might seem, the boxers would argue those millions were still rightfully theirs.
According to Bloomberg News, Periscope and Meerkat were asked to take the streams down, although none of the parties involved would comment. Periscope already was under fire from cable giant HBO after its app was used to leak episodes of iGame of Thrones program in the US.
On the PGA Tour, which began using the app to help with its coverage of the Fedex Cup tournament last weekend (and had used it previously through a corporate partner, Scratch TV), Periscope has already created an unintentional stir.
A popular golf blogger, Stephanie Wei, said she had her season credential revoked for using Twitter during a practice round, when she Periscoped Masters winner Jordan Speith.
Votaw said the incident was blown way out of proportion. “It had everything do with her violating our media regulations on multiple occasions, prior to this happening. She was told, in Phoenix, ‘If you do this again, it will be revoked,’ ” he said. “We’ve had difficulties with Wei since 2008, across all manner of social-media platforms, photos, Instagram … multiple violations, multiple discussions, and none of the previous discussions had any impact.”
Votaw said the Tour was in touch with Periscope (and parent company Twitter) when the Wei situation broke. “We told them we want to continue to have a relationship where we can use those platforms to deliver content to where our fans are consuming it. But there has to be a measure of ownership, of control,” he said. “They have to develop content ID fingerprints, so they know if somebody puts that content on there and to take it down.
“It’s very early in the process, but they say they’re respectful of copyright and intellectual property and looking at ways to address these issues,” Votaw added. “If they don’t develop that technology and more efficient ways for there to be takedown, the rights holders – who are much more deep-pocketed than us – will engage them in litigation.”
Votaw said the Tour’s own efforts to limit Periscope’s reach will focus more on those attempting to monetize its use rather than on the casual fan. For one thing, it’s a labour-intensive, time-consuming effort. “We will police it to the degree that people are using it to build an audience or create a business for themselves, as [Wei] did, a blogger with 40,000 followers,” he said. “To police disparate fans doing it takes it to another level; then, it’s a question of degree.”
The NHL deputy commissioner, Bill Daly, put out an official memo in late April, making it clear credentialed media are not to violate the limits on broadcasting of any kind inside the building – including complementary elements such as pre-game skates and press conferences. Its broadcast partners pour an estimated $ 600m into the league’s coffers each year. And, if anyone is going to monetize other activities surrounding the games, they want it to be the league itself.
For the moment, all of this publicity is gold for a newborn venture like Periscope. Perhaps that’s why public statements from Periscope CEO Kayvon Beykpour on the matter have been so, well, cheeky and somewhat naïve-sounding.
“Piracy is not something that excites us,” Beykpour told CBS This Morning. “We’re really excited to work with whoever we need to, to figure out what those [tracking] tools are.”
Periscope, as with Twitter and Instagram, have published policies about playing nice on their apps, about not posting anything that doesn’t belong to you. Most users pretty much assume there’s an invisible winking emoticon next to the warning.
So for the moment, it’s the Wild West out there in piracy land. And while sporting organizations must deal with already-emerging fallout and what no doubt will be increasingly vocal concerns from their broadcast partners, Periscope is on a roll, and won’t be going away any time soon. But use them at your own risk.
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