Fear and Loathing of Periscope – The US Open Freaks Out

The US Open golf tournament is on this week from the great Pacific Northwest. For the first time, spectators are allowed to bring cell phones onto the course, but they are being warned not to use the hot new live streaming video app Periscope. US Open officials are threatening to kick people out if they are caught live streaming any part of the tournament.

Periscope is the new mobile app that allows users to broadcast live video from their cell phones to the world. What makes Periscope different from the live streaming video apps that have come before, is it’s tight integration with Twitter. Twitter bought Periscope last year and has blocked competitors, like Meerkat, from integrating with Twitter as well as Periscope does.

I think the US Open is being very short sighted when it comes to Periscope and live streaming video in general. Periscope is not a threat to the US Open or even the networks that pay handsomely for the rights to broadcast the tournament. When watching Periscope, you are watching a single individuals video from their point of view. That person is also likely not standing in a position to get the best angle to view the action. The video quality on Periscope is decent, but no where near the quality of full HD coming from the broadcast networks. In short, watching a live sporting event on Periscope is a vastly inferior experience. Also, the US Open already has a high quality online alternative.

“We offer three channels of live streaming of our own,” said Janeen Driscoll, director of public relations for USGA. “We believe that’s a much better viewing experience than having fans distribute videos.”

Problem solved. The small number of casual viewers who are going to watch a Periscope are insignificant. If they start to get really interested in watching, there is a good chance they will switch over to the regular or online broadcast for a better experience. So, I could argue that Periscope can drive more traffic to the official broadcast, a net win.

Even from a practical enforcement perspective, banning Periscope makes no sense. First, officials have to identify someone is videoing and determine which hole it is coming from. Assuming, they have 18 different people stationed at each hole on the course, that person has to look at at 100 plus people in a crowd and find the person holding up a cell phone. It’s very likely several people will be holding up phones, but some of them will be simply taking photos while others may be taking video, but not streaming. How in the world do you determine who is who? And are they actually going to hire and pay 18 extra people to do this?

No other major sport tries to ban or limit video streaming, including the NFL, NHL NBA, or MLB. Major League Baseball, in fact, has a very healthy attitude toward it.

“We fully understand that our fans want to video singular moments from our ballparks, and that there is a difference between this type of activity and posting play-by-play from a game,” said Pat Courtney, an MLB spokesman.

Like many technologies that came before it, live video streaming is disruptive, and with any disruptive technology, finding a better solution within that disruption for customers is usually the best answer. It’s adapt or die. Trying to block things never works. What if the US Open offered an official Periscope channel? What if that channel offered special behind the scenes video only available to the US Open? This would co-opt the channel and possibly  draw people away from the unofficial Periscope broadcasters.

The big, overarching problem is that Internet technologies are bumping up against old business models and the business models don’t want to budge. The music industry nearly lost everything until Apple convinced the powers that be to give iTunes a chance. Someday, the generations that grew up with digital media and the Internet will be in charge and they will re-write the business models. This will all work out in time. Until then, it will continue to be a struggle.