Live Streaming: a cause for concern?

14 Apr 2015

By: Sport Industry Group

With the likes of Periscope and Meerkat gaining traction, what impact could this have on the world of sport? Pinsent Masons' Julian Moore looks a little deeper...

Live streaming is the new smartphone craze. The newly launched applications, Meerkat and its rival, Twitter-owned Periscope, give phone users the ability to shoot live footage with their phone and instantly share it with their Twitter followers, turning everyday citizens into roving cameramen with just a touch of a button.

Live streaming is not a new technology. However, these applications make it easier for users to connect with their Twitter network and have been launched at a time when camera phone technology and internet connectivity are improving considerably. Some observers believe these apps will have a massive impact on the way in which social media is used, both by individuals and commercially.

Meerkat and Periscope have already been embraced by musicians, journalists and politicians and it is only a matter of time before they’re used in the world of sport, whether by fans in stadia wanting to share their view of a match, by pitch side reporters or even by clubs.

This is not the first time of course that fans and others have been able to record and distribute their own personal footage of sports events. YouTube and Twitter are awash with blurred and shakily shot goal clips and the like. It is the first occasion, however, that fans are being presented with the opportunity of sharing a live stream of sports events in this manner. This is likely to cause concern for some TV broadcasters and rights holders - sports footage is most valuable commercially when it is broadcast live, especially on an exclusive basis, and any dilution of that exclusivity potentially has obvious serious financial implications.

To protect the interests of their broadcast partners, rights holders do already take steps to prevent fans and others from recording footage from inside grounds. While in many jurisdictions it’s arguably not a breach per se of anyone’s copyright to transmit footage of a sports event filmed by a mobile phone, this sort of activity is usually prohibited under ticketing/accreditation terms and conditions. Clubs such as Manchester United have gone even further and banned outright the use of tablet devices at Old Trafford.

In many cases, monitoring and enforcement of mobile phone filming has proven a challenge, especially where crowds are large and tensions are high, and are an added burden on already stretched stewarding teams. As such, enforcement has tended to take place in a relatively low-key manner and, indeed, some clubs have turned a blind eye in the interests of keeping the peace with fans.

It remains to be seen, however, whether rights holders will remain as relaxed now that live streaming is possible. If broadcast partners complain loudly enough, rights holders/clubs may have to be more vigilant and heavier handed, for example by ejecting offending fans or imposing banning orders or fines for persistent offenders, although those options may not appeal from a PR perspective. It is also, perhaps, unrealistic to expect fans to stop filming footage altogether and for clubs to be able to spot everyone using a phone in this manner.

Rights holders and broadcasters also have the option of working with the likes of Twitter to shut down any offending streams. However, as the English Premier League have experienced when attempting to prevent the proliferation of Vine clips and the like, this can be easier said than done, especially given that many streams will only be transmitted on a live basis or may only be shared with restricted user groups, or where there are many different streams of the same match or event. It’s possibly also too soon to know how easy it will be to identify offending Meerkat and Periscope streams and take effective action, and how willing the likes of Twitter will be to step in on the side of a rights holder, especially given that Periscope is a Twitter-owned product.

For the time being, broadcasters of large events will take some comfort that widespread streaming may not yet be possible due to technological constraints. For example, many stadia (even large relatively sophisticated ones) have not yet installed wifi networks that are capable of handling the amounts of data required for extensive live streaming of this nature.

Additionally, it is possibly doubtful whether fans will actively choose to watch, say, a football match shot by an amateur on a phone rather than paying to watch a professionally produced and edited HD footage of that match shot by a broadcaster like Sky, or even not paying to watch a pirated internet stream of TV footage of the same match (which is a separate, and usually much more serious infringement altogether). In general terms, even if the technology improves and the applications are used widely, most amateur shot footage is only likely to dent a broadcaster’s commercial model, not bend it out of place.

It is possible though to think of environments in which Meerkat and Periscope will prove be more effective in terms of the viewing experience, for example when filmed from the front row of a darts or snooker match, in the immediate proximity of a golfer’s tee shot, or ringside at a UFC or boxing bout. This could have serious implications for a broadcaster, particularly if an event is being broadcast by conventional TV on an expensive pay per view basis.

Rather than resisting the emergence of this type of broadcast technology, some sports rights holders may even embrace it as a way of complimenting their official broadcasts. For example, the UCI already seems to welcome the distribution by cycling fans of their roadside race footage and, as has been shown by the recent use of on-board cameras by Velon, it is a sport that is actively looking at new ways to enhance its broadcast product.

Similarly, these apps could work well for minority sports or less popular leagues as a means, for example, to distribute instant behind the scenes footage, to broadcast crowd reactions or interviews or to be used as coaching aids. Meerkat and Periscope also certainly have a place in sports that aren’t currently being televised at all and which want to offer some form of live internet streaming to their supporters, however rudimentary. Clubs might also consider their informal use in pre-season friendlies or at the training ground, thereby giving fans access to footage without incurring production costs.

Overall, while you can envisage how Meerkat and Periscope could enhance a sports fan’s viewing enjoyment, it’s difficult to see how the apps themselves will revolutionise the world of sports broadcasting, particularly of major events. They are without doubt though an interesting technological advance and have emerged at a time when other similarly interesting broadcast technologies are now being rolled out commercially, including on-board cameras and in-shirt cameras, and stadia are becoming increasingly connected.

Although we will for some time yet remain reliant on sophisticated broadcast technology and TV broadcasters to access top quality live footage of our favourite sporting events, the broadcast world is becoming increasingly inventive and dynamic. If new technology such as Meerkat and Periscope can be harnessed properly and creatively, armchair sports fans will be the winner.

Julian Moore is head of Broadcast and Media Rights in the Sports Group of Pinsent Masons LLP, one of the world’s leading firms of lawyers to the sports and stadia sector. Find out more here.

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