Live Video Streaming

Last week Periscope, the live video streaming app now owned by Twitter, was released for Android. This came a month or two after it was first available on iOS. It isn’t alone in this marketplace – we also had Meerkat which got a leap on Periscope when it was released at SXSW. But the traction seems to be with Periscope with that Twitter integration (and the “un”-integration with Twitter of Meerkat).

This is all well and good, but these two apps are by no means the only live streaming apps around. YouTube has had it for ages – you just need to turn it on for your account. And there are numerous other apps which you can find if you search the various app stores.

But I remain dubious about the long-term demand for these apps, and particularly with the latest bunch led by Periscope.

Here are a few reasons for me saying this:

1. Most of us really don’t have anything interesting to livestream.

Perhaps the best examples (and I use “best” very lightly) that I’ve seen so far for Periscope come from journalists and broadcasters. So a TV show or radio show that was already being broadcast suddenly has an iPhone propped up somewhere so you can get either an alternate view, or to see a show that otherwise had no video (i.e. radio). Whether this is any better than a webcam is debatable.

Otherwise I’ve seen some live reviews, or discussions happening on Periscope. But I remain unconvinced that “Live” is particularly important. How is this any better than just posting a video on YouTube?

2. If you do have something interesting to show, you might not be allowed to.

The biggest example of this so far was perhaps the Pacquiao v Mayweather fight last month. With PPV costs in the US running close to $100, there were lots of reports of people seeking streams via Periscope. Of course, if you really wanted to watch the fight illegally, there are probably better places to go that aren’t based around someone propping up a portrait-oriented smartphone and directing it at their landscape-oriented TV.

At the weekend I was lucky enough to go to the FA Cup Final where Arsenal trounced Aston Villa 4-0. As the final minutes approached, I thought I’d have a go at Periscoping the end of the game. I’m on EE. Wembley Stadium is “Connected by EE” – let’s see how it would cope. Not enough bandwidth was the answer. With 90,000 in the stadium that’s perhaps not surprising. Ordinarily I can barely get a text out from a football stadium, let alone use streaming video. To be fair, I thought I was doing well getting Twitter working and being able to send photos out on my feed during the match. Either way, I clearly had no rights to be “broadcasting” the FA Cup Final. At the moment, this practical limitation is probably enough to assuage some rights holders. Pointing my phone at a TV at home is something else though.

3. Most of the time I miss the event.

Yes, the app pings me to say that someone I know has started streaming, but as a rule, I’m not just sitting about hoping someone is going to stream something interesting.

I might miss the live notification from the app, or not see the Twitter message until it’s a few minutes old. By then it’s often too late. And I’m not aware that you can post out URLs in advance of your broadcast so that recipients can be ready for, say, a 4pm broadcast. All you can do is alert your followers to the fact that you plan to broadcast then and that they should keep watching for a link.

4. Much of what’s streamed is dull.

You know this is true. Yes, because it’s young, you probably get a few viewers to your broadcast. But time is short, and most people have got something more interesting to do than watch somebody else’s party.

That may not be entirely true for everyone – teenagers for example. But how many of us really want to experience your fantastic social life remotely on our phones.

If you happen to be on the ground during some kind of major news event, then great. Broadcast away. But most of us will never be in that situation. And in any case, you’re still better just videoing things on your phone and uploading the video later. At least that way you can be sure your video doesn’t expire after 24 hours – something I truly don’t get aside from more salacious uses (see Snapchat). There’s a certain false exclusivity created – you had to be there to see it – but that’s about it.

And if I’m a celebrity then I sort of get it. They could be fun Q&As, or streams from exclusive events (the event holders may have something to say thought). But most of us aren’t celebrities.

If you really do have something to say, are you not better putting your video up on YouTube?

5. Portrait.

Truth be told, this is my biggest issue of the lot. Why are we forced to use portrait? It’s mostly dreadful.

For 99% of use cases, landscape (i.e. the orientation we use computers in and watch TV) is better. We have two eyes and they are not positioned one over the other!

We see the world in landscape.

There are only a limited number of use cases where portrait video makes sense. Don’t do it. If there is more than one person in your video, it begins to get awkward very quickly. Even if your video is only going to be seen on other mobile devices, it still doesn’t make any sense.

I know that phones are mostly used in portrait mode. But it’s not as though people are incapable of turning their phones 90 degrees. (If I designed a smartphone I reckon I might mount the camera unit so that photos came out landscape if they held the phone in portrait mode, just to flummox people!)

Try watching a Periscope video on a laptop. It’s a horrible experience leaving most of the screen empty. Amusingly you can zoom right into the centre section, but that’s even worse – a fuzzy mess.

Incidentally this is also why I don’t really use Instagram. Why should I be forced to take all my photos in square format? How about letting me decide my own ratio for my photos?

Flickr’s mobile app used to prompt users to turn their camera to landscape, but sadly it no longer seems to do so.


Look I realise I’m “old” and probably just “don’t get it.” But I’m going to take a bit of persuading to be convinced that live video broadcasting like this is going to be a thing. Certainly I understand Skype and Facetime, or Google Hangouts. They make sense. I even understand – vaguely – the appeal of Twitch. Then there are the YouTubers. They’re financially incentivised to use that platform, and their ever improving production values tend to require post-production before publishing rather than an unedited stream. Doing live broadcasting decently is hard.

There may be some limited use cases where these services fill a hole. Time will tell. But I remain utterly unconvinced, and think it’s just a fad right now.