A few days ago, we joked in the newsroom that the live streaming services Meerkat and Periscope would be heavily used during this “fight of the century.” We had no-idea how prescient that would be.
Cable PPV connections may have experienced issues with overloading that delayed the start of the fight by about 45 minutes, but by the time the fight was ready to go, Periscope and Meerkat were ready.
I never had any intention of paying $90 to $100 for the fight; I’ll watch it on HBO next week. But after waking up from my Kentucky Derby-induced hangover and finding that the fight was just starting, I decided to see if Periscope had any decent streams of the fight.
Did it ever. I tuned in in the third round and was able to see dozens and dozens of fight streams in the global “live” menu. Tapping into a few streams, it was quickly apparent that some were just standard Periscopes of friends at a fight-night party, while others were focused intently on television sets or computer screens playing the fight in real time.
The real media story on the fight is about how many people are Periscoping this stuff. Amazing— Christina Warren (@film_girl) May 3, 2015
The number of streams was almost overwhelming. Some Periscopers were shooting in portrait mode (as is standard for Periscope), while others were shooting in landscape to capture more of a TV screen.
Some streams featured commentary from parties and shots of friends; others focused almost completely on the fight itself. Some streams were in crowded rooms, other in almost empty homes.
Based on the map on Periscope, I saw streams from all over the world. There was even a stream of the fight from a police department in Africa. The Pacquiao-Mayweather fight was a very global story, and this was evident from the Periscope streams.
Keep in mind, Periscope is still relatively U.S.-centric and its iPhone-only nature skews its demographics somewhat. Still, this was the first time I’ve seen so many global streams — certainly at one time.
Hopping from stream to stream
Now, clearly, Periscope (and Meerkat for that matter) was not designed to be used to allow individuals to broadcast fights that cost $100 on Pay-per-view.
As a result, streams would frequently get shut down, either because Periscope put an end to the piracy or because of other intermittent connection issues.
As a result, finding a consistent way to watch the fight was a challenge. Often, a stream would be successfully active for one round, only to immediately go black.
This wasn’t really a problem, however, because like a hydra, we could just go to another Periscope stream somewhere else in the world to watch the fight on someone else’s TV.
Soon, viewers started to notice a trend. If a Periscope session go too many “hearts” (Periscope lingo for favorites, achieved by tapping on the screen), a stream would get shut down.
Viewers started to harangue the users who were obsessively “hearting” the Periscope streams, telling them to stop or the stream would get shut down.
The stream I ended up watching for half the fight was in Spanish (but still very viewable) and it had more than 10,000 people in it at its peak. That’s right. 10,000 people, all watching some guy’s stream of the fight in Spanish on his high-def TV.
The stream managed to say up for quite some time before the influx of hearts appeared. At this point, users started to beg the hearters to stop, both in English and Spanish.
In some streams, there was lively commentary amongst the viewers. Other streams (like the one I was in for most of the fight) was almost silent (save the pleas to stop the hearts) until the very end.
After the fight was over, as audience awaited the judges’ decision, commentary broke out over who should win. In my stream, Pacquiao was the clear favorite, and there was a barage of boos and jeers when Mayweather was deemed the winner.
The start of something new?
It’s to frame the Periscope narrative as one about the new realm of piracy; and there’s plenty to discuss there, from the complex economics of fighters’ earning 9-figure payouts to the future of set-top cable television and old-school PPV in an increasingly digital and mobile environment.
But I think that misses the point.
The experience of watching the fight on Periscope was inherently more social — and frankly, more interactive — than watching via one of the many pirate PPV or HBO streams available on the Internet.
Let’s be honest: Most of the people who watched the fight over Periscope never had any intention of paying for the fight. Ever. Media companies can and will wring their hands over lost revenue — and that’s a potentially valid concern if this sort of thing becomes mainstream.
For its part, Periscope, which is owned by Twitter, seems to want to have it both ways.
CEO Dick Costolo and Twitter investor Chris Sacca both tweeted about how Periscope “won” the night, but this raised questions from media reporters who see basking in that success tantamount to celebrating piracy.
And the winner is… @periscopeco
— dick costolo (@dickc) May 3, 2015
Periscope won by a knockout.
— Chris Sacca (@sacca) May 3, 2015
This almost seems like an endorsement of piracy https://t.co/lW6V5eHZdU
— Alex Fitzpatrick (@AlexJamesFitz) May 3, 2015
For his part, Sacca later tweeted his success metrics were NOT the seemingly unending number of pirated streams, but the way some sports reporters used Periscope to offer commentary about the fight. That doesn’t change the fact that most of the activity on Periscope Saturday night was dedicated to contraband streams of the fight.
— Chris Sacca (@sacca) May 3, 2015
Still, the truth is, watching a video stream of someone recording their TV doesn’t replicate the experience or quality of watching a fight on TV any more than Handycam movie bootlegs replicate the theatrical experience.
From an experiential perspective, this exercise really did feel like being in someone else’s home at their fight-night party.
The transformative aspect of Periscope and other live streaming apps is that it can take you to a place in a much more intimate way than we’ve experienced before.
Hundreds of thousands — if not potentially millions — of users logged into Periscope and Meerkat Saturday night. It may have been because of the fight, but I would bet many end up returning.
There is something compelling (and addictive) about watching live video. This was true 15 years ago when Josh Harris was using the medium on Pseudo.com (the experiment and the rise and fall of Harris is brilliantly recalled in Ondi Timoner’s documentary We Live in Public) and when Big Brother debuted on TV and its true today.
The difference is that 15 years ago — even five years ago — streaming was something only a few people could do. Today, anyone with a smartphone can do it. And that’s powerful.
I’ll most certainly watch the entire Pacquiao-Mayweather fight on HBO next week. It was a good fight and I’d like to see it with my husband, who knows far more about boxing than I do. But something tells me the experience won’t be as electric as it was watching in the living room in Spanish with 10,000 other Internet denizens.