In early April, 2015, AT&T Park was packed full of fans giddy to watch the Giants receive their 2014 World Series championship rings.
More than 40,000 were on hand to watch the ceremony. But unlike the Giants’ two previous ring ceremonies, most anyone, anywhere could have had a front-row view in 2015.
True to San Francisco’s devotion to technology, the Giants used Periscope, the latest social media video craze, to broadcast the ring ceremony live from the field. With one click, a fan anywhere in the world could watch a live broadcast of the celebration on a phone or computer.
Periscope — and its chief competitor, Meerkat — are video applications that allow users to live-stream video straight from their cell phones. They are apps built on top of Twitter, making them easily accessible to anyone who uses that popular social media platform.
New generation of tools
Live-streaming apps represent a new generation of social media tools that could change the way sports are consumed. First, Twitter provided sports fans with a universal forum. Then, Vine delivered readily accessible instant replay. Now, there is a simple way to broadcast live video from your cell phone to the world.
This new technology has enabled fans to watch some events for free, and traditional broadcasters, who pay big money for television rights, aren’t happy about it. The National Hockey League, for instance, has prohibited the use of the app, in an effort to appease its TV partners.
The issues surrounding broadcast rights and social media culminated during the recent Floyd Mayweather Jr.-Manny Pacquiao boxing match, when fans used Periscope to stream that fight — live and via TV — bypassing the $100 cost of ordering it. A Periscope representative said the company received 66 reports of illegal streams and took down 30. Others estimated that thousands of people watched the fight for free, using these video social media apps.
“I don’t think the growth of applications themselves will be impacted by what happens in terms of rights holders and professional entertainment,” said Jay Baer, CEO of the digital marketing firm Convince and Concert. “How many people watched the fight versus how many people watched the fight on Periscope? It is the definition of a drop in the bucket. But does a drop in the bucket eventually become an inch of water? That is the question.”
Steve Farnsworth, a social media consultant for the @Steveology Group digital marketing firm, downplayed Periscope’s role in the broadcast of the fight. After all, the streamed videos are grainy and can be choppy. In the age of high definition, most fans will choose 1,080 pixels per square inch over a gritty stream.
“It created more awesome buzz for them,” Farnsworth said. “It didn’t cost them a nickel. Nobody who saw the fight that way would’ve paid $100 for it.”
Differences between apps
The differences between Periscope and Meerkat are minimal but important. Periscope is owned by Twitter — thanks to a reported $86.6 million acquisition — making it easier to follow people you are already familiar with. It is more difficult to build a following on Meerkat, which reportedly has almost 2 million users. Because of this, Periscope has dominated market share early in this space, gaining more than 1 million users in its first 10 days of existence.
The Giants’ director of digital media, Bryan Srabian, has been slowly experimenting with Periscope since Opening Day. He has broadcast everything from the ring ceremony to batting practices before a game.
“Because it’s video, because it’s live, because it’s the nature of Twitter, there is this really cool factor with it,” Srabian said. “The fact that I can take my iPhone and just start broadcasting to the world instantly is amazing.”
Srabian has learned that while Periscope is good for some situations, such as batting practice, some of the team’s best content is better off being saved for Facebook and the website, where they can reach more fans.
Also, because of the spontaneous nature of the live videos being tweeted, a certain amount of planning must go into the broadcast to get the best results. The Giants plan to promote future Periscope broadcasts to maximize the amount of eyeballs on a video.
“We’re trying to figure out where does this go in our ecosystem of social media,” Srabian said. “It just gives us more tools in our shed in terms of ways we can bring our fans closer.”
Still, even on the college athletics level — where athletes and coaches often abide by stricter social media guidelines — schools are interested in experimenting with this technology.
UCLA live-streamed one-on-one drills during its spring football practices, allowing fans to get a closer look during the sport’s offseason. Liza David, the Bruins’ sports information director, said the live streaming was a success.
“The fans have a voracious appetite for content and video and being able to see what’s going on,” David said.