In Depth

Periscope: what's the point of the new video app?

Live-streaming app Periscope has millions of users, but is it a force for good or evil?

Periscope, a mobile app for Android and iPhone that lets users live-broadcast video, has been hailed by the technology and entertainment industries, citizen broadcasters and even politicians, but not everyone is a fan.

What is Periscope?

The app, developed by friends Kayvon Beykpour and Joseph Bernstein, was purchased by Twitter in March this year for $100m (£67m). The duo first had the idea in 2013 when trying to decide whether they should visit Taksim Square in Istanbul after reports of riots. They wanted to be able to see what was going on in places in real time, through the eyes of people who were there.

The app gained a million users in the first ten days after its iPhone launch, and gained many more after its release on Android in May.

So what does it do?

Periscope allows uses to live-stream video from their mobile phones, and can be used in conjunction with Twitter, enabling other users to see links tweeted in order to view live-streams.

It is not the only live-streaming app. Many early attempts have fallen by the wayside, and another similar service called Meerkat, was also launched earlier this year. Twitter cut off Meerkat's access to its social media site, however, when it announced the acquisition of Periscope.

Periscope offers similar services to Meerkat, but also gives users the option to let anyone play back the video stream.

Who has been using Periscope?

The app has become the talk of the technology world, attracting the attention of broadcasters and media companies, who have realised it offers a very cheap method of reaching new audiences, reports the Daily Telegraph. But musicians are also using it, and even the Prime Minister is a fan.

Sky News presenter Kay Burley used Periscope to show viewers behind the scenes of ITV’s Leader Debates in the build-up to the general election, and David Cameron used Periscope to broadcast his first post-election address from Number 10. CNN's Max Foster also used of the app during his coverage of the birth of Princess Charlotte.

Meanwhile, the Rolling Stones used Periscope to broadcast their 'secret' show in LA in May. The Telegraph also says that more than 40 authors have done live broadcasts on Periscope, "showing fans where they write their books and often reading from currently unpublished work".

So what's not to like?

The live-steaming capabilities of periscope have led to criticism that the service can be easily hijacked by video pirates. The issue came up at the app's launch, when several users of the service used it to air the fifth season premiere of HBO's Game of Thrones live. It was also used to stream pirate versions of the Floyd Mayweather-Manny Pacquiao boxing march, which was televised via pay-per-view TV at a cost of $90.

But the app's creators have argued that Periscope is not that good as a pirating tool. Periscope CEO, Kayvon Beykpour told Wired, "Yes, you could be watching Game of Thrones and point your phone at the TV, but that's actually a pretty terrible way to watch Game of Thrones. There are about 80 better ways to pirate Game of Thrones than through Periscope."

Beykpour also points out that Periscope "has procedures and policies in place to take care of that stuff". Periscope can ban users for broadcasting copyrighted material and pornography. "All that stuff is banned from our platform and we have supervision in place to take it off," he says.

What about Big Brother?

There are also serious privacy issues associated with the ability to to film and broadcast live, Sophie Curtis points out in the Daily Telegraph. "Anyone who has read David Eggers' dystopian novel, The Circle," she says, "will be reminded of the SeeChange cameras that can be embedded in walls and are also worn all day long by characters wishing to be "transparent", allowing the public to see what they are seeing at all times". 

But Beykpour argues that transparency is "a force for good". People can broadcast but they can also watch. He also says that in the era of smart phones, ideas of privacy have changed.

What's the future of Periscope?

The service is still in its infancy, and apps come and go, so it remains to be seen whether Periscope will remain at the top of the pile. It's bound to be used for marketing, like most apps and social media services, but piracy will continue to be an issue.

For this year's Wimbledon, Roger Federer manned the tournament's Periscope live-stream of 'unique moments', but at the same time event organisers banned audience members from using the service to broadcast matches. 

Technically, live sporting events are not covered by copyright laws, but event organisers can make a contract with ticket holders not to live-stream events, which is what Wimbledon did. But, as Mark Owen points out on the Drum, Periscope, is a new technology, and like a lot of new technology, the law has yet to catch up with it.

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