Despite not throwing a single punch, content owners and distributors came away from the May 2nd championship fight between Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao with the most bruises, or so says a host of commentators.
Publications from around the globe, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, the BBC and the Los Angeles Times, ran stories in the aftermath of the much-anticipated bout declaring content rights holders to be the big losers, sucker punched by the unofficial debut of Periscope, the Twitter-owned live streaming app. An unknown number of people reportedly tapped into Periscope-facilitated streams sent from mobile devices aimed at televisions or the live action, circumventing the nearly $100 pay-per-view fee.
These accounts of an existential threat to broadcasters and content owners posed by Periscope, Meerkat and other live streaming apps will, like the hype leading up to the actual fight, prove to be overblown. But that doesn’t mean that the latest video-centric spin on social networking isn’t potentially disruptive to the media industry.
Content owners, distributors and others in the media industry ecosystem can respond to Periscope and its ilk in one of three ways: dismiss it, fight it or embrace it. Choose the first option at your peril. Live streaming brings a personal element to video consumption that consumers now crave. The second is equally fruitless. Why throw money at lawyers or anti-piracy efforts that will ultimately prove ineffectual?
The most prudent response to any technology that threatens your viability is to incorporate it into your business model. Instead of fighting against the inevitability of mobile live streaming, content owners and distributors need to figure out how to best monetize this new form of video distribution.
For starters, rights holders and distributor need to incorporate live streaming into a totally immersive experience. Content, at least in the traditional sense, is no longer king. It’s been usurped by experience. Consumers, above all else, now desire a completely immersive experience, where the quality of content remains important, if not critical. By augmenting a broadcast with multiple types of content and viewing options, media companies can provide a tiered experience that can be monetized accordingly.
In an IP or OTT environment, a premium tier of a broadcast sporting event, for example, might provide behind-the-scenes content and commercial-free access. A lower, or even free, tier might be supported by ads, snipes and other branding. The same multi-tier approach could be applied to sound and picture quality.
The early reaction to live streaming by professional sports leagues has been to prohibit spectators from broadcasting at live events. But some professional sports teams, including one that is working with Imagine Communications, are taking a more enlightened approach. A few stadium owners are tapping into social media content emanating from their venues, weaving video, photos, and first-hand accounts by spectators into a rich tapestry of experience.
Aggregating, censoring, curating and delivering these contributions heightens the ability of the remote audience to engage. By offering these spectator-supplied contributions alongside the professional contributions, sports teams can create something truly immersive that captures the raw atmosphere of the venue.
"The broadcast industry is nearing a Napster moment"
The early alarm bells sounded by national media have a tempest-in-a-teapot ring to them. No one has yet to provide even a rough estimate of the number of people who viewed the Mayweather-Pacquiao brawl via Periscope. And of those uncounted freeloaders, who’s to say how many would have shelled out the $100 if a low-quality alternative was not available?
But broadcasters and content owners that blithely dismiss this threat are being shortsighted. A particularly vulnerable target is complacent broadcasters that continue to push out a passive, narrowly focused experience. That’s just not what a growing percentage of consumers — armed with unlimited data contracts and short attention spans — want anymore.
The broadcast industry is nearing a Napster moment. The growing popularity of the Internet for video distribution and mobile devices for consumption is pointing the industry toward a new way of doing business. The media industry can choose to ignore or rage against this looming challenge. Or, like Apple, it can embrace it.
The moral of this story is that a rope-a-dope defense isn’t going to work this time. Broadcasters and content owners need to start throwing punches.